Do I Need Cancer Screenings in My 20s?

For most cancers, the risk of developing them increase as you get older. But almost any cancer can develop at any age.

About 5% of all cancers occur in young adults from ages 20 to 39. It’s the fourth-leading cause of death in this age group.

Routine cancer screenings are an important part of catching cancer early. Most routine cancer screenings occur later in life, often starting at age 40. There’s one exception: The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends cervical cancer screenings in your 20s and 30s.

If you’re a young adult, certain risk factors could make you consider cancer screenings starting at a younger age. So, what are the chances of getting cancer in your 20s?

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Most Common Cancers In Your 20s and 30s

Certain cancers are more common among young adults before or after age 25. According to the National Cancer Institute, lymphomas and thyroid cancer are the most common cancers in people ages 15 to 24. Breast and thyroid cancers are the most common for people ages 25 to 39.

According to ACS, the cancers listed below are the most common cancers in people ages 20 to 39. Most of these cancers don’t have screening tools that doctors can use to find the cancers early.

Breast cancer

Your risk of breast cancer increases as you get older. Before age 30, breast cancer is rare. But breast cancer is so common that an estimated 12,150 cases occur annually in women under age 40.


Lymphomas are a type of blood cancer that affects the lymphatic system. The two types are non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin lymphomas, based on which of the body’s cells the cancer affects. In young adults, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is less common than Hodgkin lymphoma.

Hodgkin lymphoma is most common in the following groups:

  • From ages 15 to 40, most often in people in their 20s.
  • After age 55.

The risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma increases as you get older. In young adults, some types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma can grow more quickly and need more intense treatment. But they also respond better to treatment than these cancers do in older adults.


Melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, is most common in older adults. But it’s also one of the most common cancers in people younger than 30.

You are at an increased risk if you’re a woman. If you have a family history of melanoma, you can develop it at a younger age.


Sarcomas are cancers of the muscles, connective tissues, and bones. Rhabdomyosarcoma is a cancer of the skeletal muscles and is most common in children younger than 10. But teens and young adults also can develop this soft-tissue cancer.

Teens are at the most significant risk of developing the two most common types of bone cancer — osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma. But these bone cancers also can develop in young adults.

Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer usually occurs in midlife and often in women younger than age 50, but rarely in women younger than 20.

Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is much more common in older women. But certain types — known as germ cell tumors — are more common in teens and young women.

Thyroid cancer

Compared to other adult cancers, thyroid cancer is more likely to develop at a younger age. It’s also more common in women than in men.

Testicular cancer

Adolescents and young adults are the groups most frequently diagnosed with testicular cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, about half of all testicular cancers occur in men ages 20 to 34.

Colorectal cancer

Cancers of the colon and rectum are much more common in older adults. When these cancers occur in younger adults, it’s usually due to genetic conditions that increase their risk.

Brain and spinal cord tumors

In adults, brain tumors are more likely to develop in the upper parts of the brain. Spinal cord tumors are less common than brain tumors. Some rare types of brain tumors can develop in childhood (astrocytomas) or mid-life (oligodendroglioma).

Potential Cancer Screenings in Your 20s and 30s

Cancer screenings are regular tests that can detect certain cancers early. They may find cancers before symptoms start. The earlier your doctor diagnoses cancer, the better your odds of surviving it.

Not all cancers have screening tools. Some tools pose too much risk of giving a false positive result. Others may carry risks of exposure to radiation or other costs and risks.

The ACS bases its cancer screening recommendations on the benefits and risks of various techniques and tools.

Men of average risk do not need cancer screenings in their 20s and 30s. Women of average risk should get cervical cancer screenings starting in their 20s. People in their 20s and 30s in high-risk groups may need cancer screenings for breast cancer or colon cancer, as well.

Regardless of age, if you have any symptoms of these or other cancers, make an appointment with your doctor immediately. They can order scans and other tests to diagnose whether you have cancer and the next steps.

Breast cancer screening

Between the ages of 50 and 74, women should have a breast cancer screening mammogram every two years.

Starting at age 40, you may consider getting a mammogram if you have a parent, sibling, or child with breast cancer. A family history of breast cancer increases your risk of breast cancer. And you may benefit more from earlier screening.

For young adults, your doctor may recommend earlier screening if you are at high risk of breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about your risk level.

Cervical cancer screening

Anyone in their 20s and 30s with a cervix — even if they’re vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) — should get screened for cervical cancer. There are three types of cervical cancer screening that your doctor may do:

  • The primary HPV test detects high-risk strains of the human papillomavirus on your cervix.
  • A Pap test takes cells from the cervix and looks for signs of cancer.
  • A co-test tests for both HPV and signs of cancer, sometimes using the same sample.

There’s some debate surrounding cervical cancer screening. The ACS and the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) have different recommendations. Multiple professional organizations endorse the USPSTF recommendations.

The ACS recommends cervical cancer screening with a primary HPV test from age 25 through 65. If primary HPV testing is not available, they recommend a co-test every five years or a Pap test every three years.

The USPSTF recommends Pap test screening every three years in women ages 21 to 29. For women ages 30 to 65 years, they recommend one of the following:

  • A Pap test every three years.
  • A primary HPV test every five years.
  • Co-testing every five years.

Talk to your doctor about which screening recommendations make sense for you.

Colorectal cancer screening

Regular screening for colorectal cancers typically starts at age 45 and continues until age 75. Your doctor may recommend earlier screening if you are at high risk for colorectal cancer based on family or genetic history.

Colorectal cancer screening options include:

  • A stool-based sensitivity test every one to three years, depending on the test type. These tests look for signs of cancer in your stool.
  • colonoscopy to visually check for cancer inside your colon and rectum every 10 years.

If colonoscopy results show polyps or other risk factors, you may need follow-up screening every five years or sooner.

Between ages 76 and 84, talk to your doctor about whether regular screening makes sense for you. Your doctor will consider your life expectancy, overall health, personal choice, and prior screening history. After age 85, doctors do not recommend continued colorectal cancer screenings.

Lung cancer screening

The USPSTF recommends yearly lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) for people who:

  • Currently smoke.
  • Have a history of heavy smoking.

Do You Need Cancer Screenings in Your 20s or 30s?

Catching any cancer early increases your chances of survival. That’s why it’s vital to talk to your doctor and share information about your health history.

Reasons to screen earlier

These are some reasons you may need to screen for cancers even earlier than the regular standard recommended starting ages. They include:

  • A personal history of cancer.
  • Family history of cancer. Talk to your family about their cancer history.
  • Genetic risk factors for certain cancers. Your doctor may recommend genetic testing to learn about your genetic risk for certain cancers.
  • History of radiation treatment for previous cancers.
  • Other risk factors for specific cancers. For example, colon polyps may increase your risk of colorectal cancer.

Take your time filling out personal and family medical history forms. Talk to your family members about their health histories. This information helps your doctor know about your history and health conditions that may increase your cancer risk. It also can help them determine what screenings and other medical tests you need.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

Breast Cancer Screening Recommendations. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Link.

A & B Recommendations. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Link.

Cancer Facts and Figures: 2022. American Cancer Society.Link.

Adolescents and Young Adults With Cancer. National Cancer Institute. Link.

Key Statistics for Cancer in Young Adults. American Cancer Society. Link.

Types of Cancers that Develop in Young Adults. American Cancer Society. Link.

Cancer Screening Guidelines By Age. American Cancer Society. Link.

HPV and Pap Testing. National Cancer Institute. Link.

Updated Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines. April 2021. ACOG. Link.

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