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Which cancer screenings when?

Regular cancer screenings are an important part of preventive care. But many people avoid them, fearing they’re inconvenient, uncomfortable, or might reveal something they’d rather not know. How can employers encourage their workers to make these screenings a priority?


1. Make it personal. Provide targeted messages to men and to women, according to age group. For example, those above 50 years old and those below need different messages. Please see this chartof recommended screenings. And, remind everyone that their own individual family history may require additional screening.2. Keep it simple.In fact, standard recommendations are simple (see this chart).

3. Keep it positive. People find motivation in testimonials about the peace of mind and satisfaction that comes from completing these tests. Completing recommended tests puts the mind at ease, both for the individual and their loved ones. And staying up-to-date gives a feeling of relative control over something that seems “out of control” – namely cancer. Instead of feeling powerless, people who complete screenings and take other cancer-prevention steps (avoiding tobacco and excess alcohol, plus sensible nutrition and exercise) feel they are “doing something!” They feel assertive in a positive way.

4. Talk about cancer prevention, not just cancer detection. Colonoscopy particularly lends itself to the idea of positive preventive thinking. Colonoscopy uniquely prevents cancer, not just detects it. When colonoscopy leads to removal of a polyp, one can have confidence that polyp will never become a cancer. To promote colonoscopy, promote it as a cancer-preventing procedure, not just a cancer-detecting test.


1. Don’t over-generalize.Men and women need different messages, as do people of different ages. Not everyone needs cancer screening. Emphasize age- and gender-specific recommendations. Don’t send messages that mistakenly make people think everyone needs screening every year. And, individualized recommendations from treating physicians always trump blanket recommendations.
2. Don’t over-complicate. The worse way is to promote other types of screening that don’t have endorsement from national cancer research organizations. Stick to the accepted recommendations such as those in this chart.

3. Don’t frighten. Testimonials about how someone found they had cancer on a screening evaluation, and otherwise would not have known it, may actually scare some people away from testing. Surveys show many people actually would “rather not know!” This belief may seem misinformed, but remains a major obstacle. So, emphasize the peace of mind cancer screening brings, and the fact there are ways to prevent, and not just detect, cancer. This less threatening, more welcomed invitation to cancer screening won’t frighten people away from participating.

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