Preventive health screenings can help you catch conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer in the earlier stages when they are more treatable. But a number of studies have found that many Americans skip these screenings. According to a survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians, 55 percent of men are skipping health screenings. Another survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered that approximately 8 million women had not had a cervical cancer screening in five years and 1/3 of adults surveyed had not had the recommended screening for colon cancer. If you’re not sure what health screenings you need, this guide can help.
Talk to your doctor and create a personalized plan
What screenings you need depends on a number of factors—age, gender, family history. That’s why it’s important to talk with your doctor so you can build a preventive care strategy that’s tailored specifically for you. Your doctor will perform a history and physical that will form the baseline for what types of screenings and follow-up care you need. Good communication between you and your physician is important to ensure that you receive the screenings that are appropriate for you.
The essential screenings that all adults should have include:
- Blood pressure. You should have it checked at least once every two years or more frequently if you are taking medication to control high blood pressure.
- Cholesterol levels. Your doctor will determine how frequently you need to have a cholesterol test based on several factors, including whether you use tobacco, are overweight, have a personal history of heart disease, or a family history that includes a male relative who had a heart attack before age 50 or a female relative who had a heart attack before 60.
- Colorectal cancer. Starting at age 50, you should be screened for this disease. If you have a family history of colon cancer, screening should begin at an earlier age. Talk with your doctor to determine what type of testing is most appropriate for you.
- Blood sugar. Starting at 45, you should have your blood sugar checked every three years. If you are overweight, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you may need to start being screened sooner and undergo more frequent screenings.
- Breast cancer. Women should have a mammogram every 1 to 2 years after age 40. If you have a family history of breast cancer, your doctor may suggest starting mammograms at an earlier age and may recommend genetic testing for BRCA1 and 2 mutations.
- Bone density. Women should have a baseline DEXA scan at age 65. Those with osteoporosis risk factors such as being petite or thin, having a family history of the disease, smoking or certain diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis should ask their doctor if they need a DEXA scan before age 65.
There are other screening tests that your physician may recommend based on your lifestyle, family history, and personal health history. These include screening for skin cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, hepatitis C, sexually transmitted infections, and abdominal aortic aneurysm and depression. Men should talk with their physicians about their recommendations regarding screening for prostate cancer.
Remember to follow up with your doctor if you don’t receive the results of your screenings. It’s unwise to assume that no news is good news. Another important part of your preventive health strategy should be to maintain a healthy weight, take part in regular physical activity, and eat a healthy diet. These proactive steps can help you lower your risk of a range of health problems including heart disease, stroke, depression and cognitive impairment.