Cancer Screenings: Starting at What Age?

Cancer Screenings: Starting at What Age? | UPMC Italy

The likelihood of getting cancer increases as you get older, but it is worth noting that cancer can strike at any age. About 5 percent of cancers occur between the ages of 20 and 39, representing the fourth leading cause of death in this age group (American Cancer Society).

Undergoing regular cancer screenings is critical for early detection. Particularly when risk factors are present.

The Most Common Cancers at a Young Age

(Source: American Cancer Society)

Breast cancer

In Italy, 20 percent of women with breast cancer are younger than 40 years old. The high percentage translates into 11,140 new patients each year. If there is a family history or other risk factors, screening is recommended from a young age.

Breast cancer screening:

  • Mammography starting at age 45-50 (Ministry of Health)


Hodgkin lymphoma is most common between the ages of 15 and 40 years. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma at a young age grows more rapidly and requires more intensive treatment, but it responds better to treatment than in adulthood.


Melanoma can strike even under age 30, especially among women and those with a family history of skin cancer.


Rhabdomyosarcoma is a skeletal muscle tumor most common in children under 10 years old; it also affects adolescents and young adults. Osteosarcoma and Ewing's sarcoma are bone tumors that affect more at a young age.

Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer can also occur in women under 50 years of age. Screening is recommended from the age of 20.

Cervical cancer screening:

  • Primary HPV test, detects high-risk strains of papillomavirus
  • Pap test, takes cells from the cervix
  • Co-test, tests for both HPV and cancer cells.

Ovarian cancer

Germ cell types of ovarian cancer are more common in adolescent girls and young women.

Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is more common in women than men, it can develop more easily at a young age.

Testicular tumors

According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, about half of all testicular cancers occur between the ages of 20 and 34.

Colorectal cancers

Colorectal cancers are rare before age 40 when they occur at a young age, often dependent on family history or genetics.

Colorectal cancer screening:

  • Stool test
  • Colonoscopy

Lung cancer

Those who smoke or have years of smoking behind them should undergo screening every year for lung cancer.

Lung cancer screening:

  • Low-dose computed tomography.

What Cancer Screenings Should you Undergo in Your 20s and 30s?

Cancer screenings play a crucial role in detecting cancers early, thereby increasing the chances of survival through early diagnosis. However, it should be kept in mind that undergoing some of them without a real risk of developing a tumor may carry more risks than benefits, such as radiation exposure or false-positive results. Therefore, it is essential to carefully evaluate the need for such examinations based on medical history and individual risk factors.

If you experience specific symptoms or complaints, it is always advisable to consult a general practitioner or specialist for further evaluation.

Learn more about UPMC's cancer screening programs.