Cancer Screening and Support

How do I get screened?

Visit your doctor to learn what cancer screenings are right for you.

A senior gentleman sits up on an exam table as he reviews some recent test results with his doctor.  The doctor is seated in front of the patient and holding out a tablet as he reviews the test with him.

Getting screened for cancer keeps you in control of your health status. The tips below can guide you on how to get started, what to expect and where to learn more about your benefits.

How do I get started?

Step 1: Schedule a visit with your doctor to learn what cancer screenings are right for you at your age.

  • If you don’t know who your doctor is, call CalOptima Health Customer Service toll-free at 1-888-587-8088 (TTY 711), Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. We have staff who speak your language.

Step 2: If possible, prepare for your visit by gathering your family’s cancer history. This may require you to talk to family members if you feel comfortable doing so. Sharing your family’s cancer history can help your doctor understand your risk for cancer.
Make a list of the following information to share with your doctor:

  • Family members who are related to you by blood and have been diagnosed with cancer.
  • The type of cancer they were diagnosed with.
  • How old they were when diagnosed with cancer.

Check out these tools to help you keep track of your family’s medical history:

Step 3: At your visit, start the conversation with your doctor.
Below are some questions that can help:

  • Am I up to date with my cancer screenings?
  • How often should I get screened?
  • What can help lower my chances of getting cancer?
  • What can raise my chances of getting cancer?
  • What cancer screenings are recommended for someone my age?

More tools to help you prepare:

What should I expect at my cancer screening?

This depends on your doctor’s recommendation. The videos and descriptions below can give you an idea of what to expect for some of the most common cancer screenings, but it is always best to talk to your doctor or care team to learn more.

Cancer Screening Video Library

Cancer Screening Descriptions

Mammogram (breast cancer screening)

A mammogram takes about 20 minutes to complete. During a mammogram, your breast is pressed flat between 2 plastic plates for a few seconds while an X-ray picture is taken. The plates are moved to a new position and the breast is pressed flat again to take another view. The same process is done on the other breast. Flattening the breast may cause discomfort but it is needed to get a clear view to look for signs of cancer.

Tips to prepare for your mammogram:

  • Wear a 2-piece outfit because you will need to remove your top, bra and other clothing covering your breast.
  • Do not use deodorant, antiperspirant, powder, lotion or ointment on the day of your mammogram. These products can appear as white spots on the X-ray.

Pap test or Pap smear (cervical cancer screening)

A Pap test takes a few minutes to complete. During the test, your doctor places a speculum gently inside your vagina. The speculum is a metal or plastic tool that keeps the vagina open so the cervix can be seen clearly. The cervix is a small canal that connects your uterus and vagina. Next, using a small spatula or brush, a sample of cells and mucus is lightly scraped from your cervix. You may feel some discomfort during the test, but it should go away once it is done.

Tips to prepare for your Pap test:

  • Don't douche for 2 to 3 days before the Pap test.
  • Don’t have vaginal sex for 2 days before the Pap test.
  • Don't use tampons, birth-control foams or jellies, other vaginal creams, moisturizers, lubricants or vaginal medicines for 2 to 3 days before the Pap test.
  • The best time to have a Pap test is at least 5 days after your period stops.
  • Try not to schedule your Pap test when you will be on your menstrual period.

Colonoscopy (colon cancer screening)

A colonoscopy may take 15–30 minutes to complete, but the entire visit (including prep and wait time) can take 1 hour or more. During your colonoscopy, your doctor will use a long, thin, flexible tube with a small camera to look at the inside of your colon. The tube will enter the opening to your intestine (the anus) and move into the lower parts of the large intestine (the rectum and then the colon). Special tools can be passed through the tube to take samples or remove any areas of concern. Your care team will let you know what you can do to ease any discomfort you may feel after the procedure.

Before your colonoscopy, talk with your doctor about:

  • Any medicines, vitamins, herbs and supplements you are taking
  • Arranging a ride home
  • How much time you will need to recover
  • How to bowel prep before your colonoscopy
  • If you have allergies

Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) (colon cancer screening)

The FIT checks for hidden blood in the stool. This test can be done every year, unlike some of the other colon cancer screenings. It can also be done in the privacy of your home. Your doctor will give you supplies such as a test kit, test cards or tubes, long brushes or other collecting devices, waste bags and a mailing envelope. The kit has detailed instructions on how to collect the samples. Keep in mind that different FIT kits will have different instructions.

Tips to collect your FIT samples:

  • Be sure to read the instructions that come with your kit before you start.
  • Collect your samples as described in the instructions.
  • Have all your supplies ready and in one place before you collect your samples.
  • If you have any questions about how to use your kit, contact your doctor’s office.

Low-Dose Computed Tomography (LDCT) (lung Cancer)

An LDCT scan is painless, and the image only takes about a minute to complete. For this scan you lie on a thin, flat table that slides inside a large doughnut-shaped machine called a CT scanner. As the table moves into the opening, a computer makes detailed X-ray images of your lungs.

Tips to prepare for your LDCT:

  • Don’t wear any jewelry such as rings, earrings, necklaces or watches.
  • You will be asked to remove items that have metal such as clothes with zippers, hearing aids, eyeglasses, dentures or hair pins because these may interfere with the scan.
  • If you are not comfortable in confined (closed-in) spaces, talk with your doctor to learn what can help you feel calm during the scan.

Does CalOptima Health cover cancer screenings?

Yes, CalOptima Health covers most preventive services, not just those for cancer. This means CalOptima Health members may be eligible to get routine cancer screenings at no cost. Visit the links below or contact CalOptima Health to find out if cancer screenings are covered for you.

Learn about benefits covered by CalOptima Health Medi-Cal
See a summary of Medi-Cal benefits.  

Contact CalOptima Health Medi-Cal Customer Service toll-free at 1-888-587-8088 (TTY 711), Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. We have staff who speak your language.

Learn about benefits covered by CalOptima Health OneCare (HMO D-SNP), a Medicare Medi-Cal Plan
See a summary of OneCare benefits.  

Contact OneCare Customer Service toll-free at 1-877-412-2734 (TTY 711), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We have staff who speak your language.


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