Are you getting the screenings you need?

July 16, 2019 in Preventive Care  •  By Miles Varn, MD

Do you know which health screenings you should get and when and how often to get screened? Screenings are an essential part of a strong preventive care strategy and can help you detect a wide range of health problems as early as possible.

The first step is to talk with your primary care physician. While there are a number of screenings that most everyone should undergo, when you start these screenings and how often you’re screened will depend on a number of factors, including your personal and family health history.

What screenings do you need?

All adults should get their height and weight measured, blood pressure checked, and a flu shot (unless you’re allergic to the shot’s ingredients or your doctor recommends against it) each year. It’s also recommended that you see your dentist once or twice a year for a check-up and cleaning and that your primary care physician screen you at each visit for depression.

Here are the other recommended health screenings by age and gender:


  • Cholesterol: You should have a cholesterol test in your 20s, then another at 35. If the results are normal, your doctor will probably recommend repeating the test every five years. If your family has a history of high cholesterol or heart disease or you’re significantly overweight, your doctor may recommend annual screening at an earlier age.
  • Skin cancer: A yearly full body skin check can help detect skin cancer in its earlier stages when it may be more treatable.
  • For women: An annual breast exam and pelvic exam are recommended. Starting at age 21, women should have a Pap test every three years to screen for cervical cancer. After age 30, you can choose to have a combination Pap test/HPV test. If both are negative, they’ll be repeated every five years.
  • For men: An annual testicular exam can help detect testicular cancer, which is the most commonly diagnosed cancer for boys and men between the ages of 15 and 44.


In addition to the screenings recommended for 18 to 39 year-olds, your doctor may also recommend:

  • Type 2 diabetes: Checking blood sugar levels each year helps detect pre-diabetes and diabetes. If you have a family history of diabetes or are significantly overweight, your doctor may recommend starting screening earlier.
  • Colon cancer: Your first colonoscopy should be scheduled at either age 50 or ten years earlier than the youngest member of your family was diagnosed with the disease. If the results of the screening are normal, colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years. If you have a family history of colon cancer, your doctor may recommend more frequent screening.
  • For women: You should have your first mammogram at 40 and then every year after that. If you have a family history of breast cancer or a genetic mutation that increases your risk for the disease, your doctor may recommend starting screening earlier.
  • For men: Men at average risk start prostate cancer screening at 50. If you have a family history of the disease, ask your doctor if you should be screened at a younger age.

 65 and older

Many of the screenings recommended when you were younger should still be completed each year, depending on your doctor’s recommendations and your overall health. In addition, your doctor may recommend:

  • Bone density screening for women and men every two to five years
  • Pneumococcal and shingles vaccinations
  • Pneumonia vaccine every five years, especially if you have certain health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, emphysema, asthma or COPD


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