Skip to main content

Cancer Screening Guidelines Overview and Processes

The American Cancer Society has issued cancer screening guidelines since 1980. ACS processes and recommendations for the early detection of specific cancer types have evolved with new scientific data, as new screening technologies became available, and as standards for creating guidelines changed. The guidelines published in 1980 were based on a review of the evidence led by Dr. David Eddy, an early pioneer in evidence-based medicine. The introduction of that methodology influenced future guideline updates. The ACS guidelines methodology underwent a review and update in 1997 to formalize a process that included the core stages of guideline development, implementation, and evaluation. The ACS protocol included nine steps to be followed for developing or revising guidelines:

  • A multidisciplinary Guideline Development Panel to oversee the process
  • Defined objectives on the cancer type, target groups and how the guidelines will be used
  • An outcome model which described how the guideline will influence outcomes
  • A procedure for documenting the rationale for each recommendation
  • Review of the scientific evidence
  • Defining the specific types of evidence to be considered in the creating the guideline
  • Peer review of the draft recommendation by the experts and intended user groups before publication
  • Evaluation of peer review comments and creation of final guideline
  • Evaluation and periodic revision of the guideline

The revised process established a more formal method for which screening recommendations for all cancer types should follow.

Although previous approaches resulted in highly credible and useful guidelines, it was recognized that the process could be improved in terms of consistency, transparency, scientific rigor, and communications. In 2011, the American Cancer Society evaluated its own process for creating cancer screening guidelines and made adjustments so its process would be more aligned with the new Institute of Medicine (IOM) standards. A report on the new changes is published in the December 14, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. This new process implemented by the ACS covers 8 principles highlighted by the IOM:

  • Transparency (explaining how guidelines are created and funded)
  • Conflicts of interest disclosure for those creating guidelines
  • Guideline development panel of individuals with appropriate expertise in clinical screening and a patient advocate
  • Independent systematic review of evidence
  • Grading strength of each recommendation by explaining the level of confidence in each guideline
  • Clear articulation of recommendations
  • External review of the proposed guidelines from outside experts and revising as needed
  • Timely updating of guidelines when there is new evidence

Get Screened is an American Cancer Society campaign that encourages people to get back on track with their recommended cancer screenings. Regular screenings can help find and treat pre-cancers and cancers early, before they have a chance to spread. After having a discussion about individual cancer risk, screening recommendations, and an appropriate screening schedule, healthcare providers can encourage their patients to learn more so they can make an informed decision. Patients and their caregivers can visit Get Screened for resources about recommended screening tests, questions to ask about screening, and health insurance issues related to screening.

For more information on the ACS guidelines development process, contact us at

American Cancer Society Screening Guidelines 2019

Each year, the American Cancer Society (ACS) publishes a summary of its guidelines for early cancer detection, data and trends in cancer screening rates from the National Health Interview Survey, and select issues related to cancer screening. In this 2019 update, we summarize the existing American Cancer Society recommendations for early detection of specific cancers. 

More Resources and Information

Meet the members of the ACS Guideline Develpment Group (GRG), review a chronological history of our guidelines, and read our position on patient cost-sharing associated with cancer screening and follow-up testing.