Early cancer detection through screening can increase the chance for a cure

Mulitple colored cancer ribbons
Written by Lisa Kaylor

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In Georgia, more than 53,000 new cases of cancer were reported in 2020.

Often, symptoms of cancer – regardless of where in the body it is located – do not develop until later stages, when treatment options are limited.

Screenings help catch cancers early when more treatment options are available and a cure is more likely. You may need to start screening earlier than recommended if you have a family history of cancer.

As a health system, we care for the health and well-being of every person we serve. Wellstar and the Georgia Cancer Center at Wellstar MCG Health offer screenings for many types of cancer using technology and innovation to improve how we provide care and protect our patients and communities.

Talk with your primary care physician to ensure you get the proper screenings.


What is it? Mammograms are X-rays of breast tissue to screen for abnormalities. Wellstar offers several types of mammograms, including 3D screening for average mammograms, 3D diagnostic to provide a closer look at an area of concern, breast ultrasound, which uses sound waves to evaluate for cancer, and breast MRI for high-risk or new breast cancer diagnoses.

Who should get screened, and how often? Women ages 40 and older should get a mammogram every year.

How does it help? Typically, a baseline is established for healthy breast tissue, which enables abnormal tissues to be detected early in a tumor’s stage. If an abnormality is detected, further diagnostic tests will follow and could include a biopsy.

Pap Smear

What is it? A swab of the cervix that screens for cervical cancer. It is typically done along with a pelvic exam.

Who should get screened, and how often? Any person who has a cervix and is 21 or older should be screened every 3-5 years.

How does it help? The collected cells are examined for abnormality. Changes in these cells could signal cancer or pre-cancer.


What is it? A colonoscopy is a physical exam that checks for changes in the large intestine and rectum. The physician uses a long flexible tube with a camera to examine for irritated tissues or polyps. Non-invasive stool tests are also available for people who have low-risk factors.

Who should get screened, and how often? People who have an average risk should start screening for colon cancer from ages 45-75 every ten years.

How do they help? Polpys are a clump of cells in the lining of the colon. Over time, some of these polyps can become cancerous. Polyps don’t cause symptoms, so screening and removal (often done during the colonoscopy) is the best way to protect against colon cancer.

Head and Neck Screening

What is it? Head and neck screening usually consists of a thorough skin, mouth, lymph nodes, salivary glands and thyroid exam. Screenings are not typically uncomfortable.

Who should get screened, and how often? People who use tobacco or alcohol or who have used them in the past should be screened at least once a year.

How do they help? Cancers of the head and neck are often preventable. Tobacco is the most preventable cause of these types of cancer. Fortunately, most of these cancers have symptoms such as a lump in the neck, change in voice, mouth sores and persistent earache. Symptoms often appear early, so these cancers can often be cured relatively easily.

Lung Cancer Screening

What is it? A low-dose computed tomography (low-dose CT scan) creates X-ray images of the lungs. Wellstar MCG Health and the Georgia Cancer Center also use artificial intelligence driven by Optellum Technology to improve our ability to detect lung nodules. The X-rays are not painful and are examined for abnormalities in the lungs.

Who should get screened, and how often? Anyone who is between the ages of 50 and 80, currently smokes cigarettes or has quit in the past 15 years, smoked a pack a day for 20 years, or two packs a day for ten years, and people who have no symptoms of lung cancer such as a cough, pain, weight loss or coughing up blood.

How do they help? Lung cancer can be cured if it’s caught early. It often starts as a nodule on the lungs, although nodules can also result from other conditions. If your doctor is concerned about a nodule, you will be referred to a pulmonologist for further evaluation.

Prostate PSA Test

What is it? A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test is the most common screening for prostate cancer. The prostate is a small gland that produces seminal fluid and transports sperm.

Who should get screened, and how often? All men should be screened for prostate cancer, but the timing of the screening depends on individual risk factors. Work with your doctor to determine the best screening regimen for you.

How do they help? PSA circulates in the bloodstream. A PSA blood test can detect high levels of these antigens, which may indicate the presence of cancer. If a PSA test is elevated, further diagnostic testing may be required.

Skin Cancer Detection

What is it? A dermatologist thoroughly examines your skin for suspicious spots during a skin cancer screening. If any are found, they may be biopsied for further testing. Patients can also conduct their routine skin cancer screening by observing spots or moles and talking with their doctor if any of them change shape, color, or otherwise cause concern.

Who should get screened, and how often? Anyone can and should see a dermatologist once a year. Suppose you have a high-risk factor for skin cancer, such as being easily sunburned, genetically predisposed to skin cancer, having atypical moles, or spending extended time outdoors. In that case, your doctor may suggest screening more often.

How do they help? Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Wellstar MCG Health offers free annual skin cancer screenings. Treatment varies depending on the stage and severity of the cancer. Your dermatologist can recommend the best treatment option using advanced techniques.