Regular health screenings are essential for maintaining good health. Early detection of disease is important because it allows people to seek early treatment and increases the likelihood of a positive outcome. Annual wellness exams should be a part of a person’s preventive healthcare starting in childhood and continuing through adulthood. These include blood pressure and vision tests, calculation of body mass index, and more.
In addition to annual exams, there are other health screening tests that you may need at various points in your life depending on your age, gender, genetics and lifestyle. Keeping track of and understanding the myriad of health screenings one needs to have throughout life can be a difficult but essential task. This guide provides information about recommended health screenings for different stages of life, what health issues they screen for, how often to schedule them, and more.
18-39 Years Old
- Cervical Cancer. Cervical cancer occurs in the cells of a woman’s cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, more than 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. Cervical cancer screening consists of two tests: the pap test and HPV test, where cells are collected and analyzed from the surface of the cervix. Recommended every two years for women starting at the age of 21.
- Cholesterol. One in six adults in the United States has high cholesterol, which is a form of fat in the body that when in excess can build up plaque on the walls of blood vessels over time and eventually harden, making arteries narrower and affecting blood flow. Having high cholesterol increases a person’s risk for a heart attack or stroke. A cholesterol test (also known as a lipid panel) measures the cholesterol levels in a person’s blood. A cholesterol check should be completed in your twenties, then annually once you turn 35. More frequent testing is recommended for people with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels requiring medication.
40 to 64 Years Old
- Breast Cancer. Aside from skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, the average risk of a woman developing breast cancer in her lifetime is 13 percent. All women should have a breast exam during their annual physical. Women over the age of 40 should have a mammogram every one to two years.
- Prostate Cancer. Prostate cancer develops in the prostate gland and is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths for men in the United States. Two tests are commonly used to screen for prostate cancer: a digital rectal exam (DRE) and PSA blood test, which is useful for detecting early-stage prostate cancer, especially in men with a higher risk factor. Prostate screenings are recommended annually for males ages 50 and older. Males with a family history of prostate cancer should begin screening at an earlier age depending on what their primary care provider recommends.
- Colorectal Cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 1 in 21 men and 1 in 23 women will develop cancer of the colon or rectum during their lifetime. Screening tests include a colonoscopy, which examines the entire colon; and a sigmoidoscopy, which examines the lower part of the colon. A CT Colonography uses X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon, which are displayed on a computer screen for the doctor to analyze. Individuals over 50 should have a sigmoidoscopy every 5 years and a colonoscopy every 10 years. Individuals under 50 should have a colorectal screening if considered at risk.
- Diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when a person’s blood sugar levels are too high. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes where the body doesn’t properly use insulin (a hormone made by the pancreas). Many people with type 2 diabetes don’t display symptoms, which is why it is important to get screened early for the disease. A blood screening test is performed by a healthcare professional to measure blood sugar levels and diagnose diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, all patients should be screened for diabetes at three-year intervals beginning at age 45, especially if they are overweight or obese. If multiple risk factors are present, screening should be performed at an earlier age and more frequently depending on what your healthcare provider suggests.
- High Blood Pressure. High blood pressure is a condition that affects approximately 30% of adults and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure and chronic kidney disease. Testing consists of measurement with a manual or automated sphygmomanometer, as well as ambulatory and home blood pressure monitoring after the initial screening. An annual screening is recommended for adults ages 40 and older, including those who are at increased risk for high blood pressure.
- Lung Cancer. More people die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer in the United States. The recommended screening test for lung cancer is a low-dose CT scan (LDCT), which uses a small amount of radiation to make detailed images of the lungs. Recommended annually for people with a heavy history of smoking, current smokers or those who have quit within the past 15 years, as well as between the ages of 55 and 80.
65 Years and Above
- Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm. An abdominal aortic aneurysm occurs when the lower part of the aorta (the blood vessel that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis and legs) becomes enlarged. It is most common in smokers and older men, and can be life-threatening if it bursts. The abdominal duplex ultrasonography is the standard screening test, which uses sound waves to produce pictures of the interior of the abdomen. Recommended for all adults once in their lifetime, especially smokers/former smokers and men between the ages of 65 to 75.
- Osteoporosis. As people age, the risk for osteoporosis increases due to their bone density decreasing. Women’s chances of developing weakened bones increases when they reach menopause because of the decrease in estrogen, which is the hormone that protects bones. A bone density test can diagnose osteoporosis before a broken bone occurs. The National Osteoporosis Foundation suggests a bone density test of the hip and spine by a central dual energy X-ray absorptiometry machine (DXA). Recommended for women 65 and older; men 70 and older; individuals with vertebral abnormalities; individuals with primary hyperparathyroidism; individuals getting (or expecting to get) glucocorticoid therapy for more than 3 months; and women determined to be estrogen-deficient and at clinical risk for osteoporosis.