Answers to common questions about preventive care
Preventive care is the foundation of a strategy to help lower your risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes and mange risk factors for diseases like cancer. The goal is to help preserve your health, manage any health issues you’ve been diagnosed with, and detect serious diseases like cancer as early as possible when they may be more treatable. Your preventive care strategy should also include steps to prevent common infectious diseases like the flu, pneumonia, and measles as well as screening for mental wellness, substance use, and cognitive issues.
The data highlight the importance of preventive care. One study found that people who took moderate preventive care measures including weight loss, control of prediabetes, and lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, had a 36% reduction in heart attacks and a 20% reduction in strokes. And a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that recommended preventive cancer screening for all eligible adults has the potential to prevent:
- 2,821 additional deaths from breast cancer over the lifetime of a cohort of 50-year-old women
- 6,834 additional deaths from cervical cancer over the lifetime of 21-year-old women
- 35,530 additional deaths from colorectal cancer over the lifetime of 50-year-old men and women
What should a preventive care strategy include?
The recommended preventive care services for adults, which vary by age and gender, include:
- Annual or every other year check-up that includes blood pressure, height/weight, BMI, and screening for depression, and tobacco and substance use
- Cholesterol and blood sugar screening based on your age, gender, and risk factors
- Cancer screenings (breast, cervical, colorectal, prostate, lung) based on your gender and risk factors
- Sexually transmitted infection and HIV screening
- Hepatitis B (based on risk factors) and hepatitis C screening
- Osteoporosis screening based on gender, age, and risk factors
- Vision screening
- Hearing screening at least every decade through age 50, then every three years
The risk factors that affect when and how often you should receive preventive care screenings include your family and personal health history, for example if a parent or sibling had a heart attack at younger age; lifestyle factors including your weight, whether you exercise, your diet, and your use of alcohol, tobacco, and substances; your genetic risk, for example the breast and ovarian cancer risk for women with the BRCA mutation; and your age and overall health.
Why are there different preventive care recommendations?
You may notice that the preventive care plan your primary care physician recommends is different than recommendations from the United States Preventive Services Taskforce, professional medical groups like The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the National Cancer Institute, or organizations like the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association. That’s because the recommendations are based on different criteria.
What your doctor recommends is tailored to your personal risk factors and family and personal health history. Other recommendations are based on population health, which looks at health outcomes for a larger group of people or a community. And some recommendations are based the cost-effectiveness of the screening services.
Why do preventive care recommendations change?
In some cases, recommendations are updated based on new information from studies on preventive care services. For example, some organizations suggested that most men at average risk for prostate cancer may not need regular PSA screening tests because the risk of a false positive and further, more invasive testing outweighed the benefit of the test.
Recommendations are also changed when new types of screening tests and technology become available or when there’s an increase in the number of people being diagnosed with a disease like hepatitis C, HIV, or HPV.
Work with your doctor to develop a tailored strategy
To build a preventive care strategy that addresses your personal risk factors, talk with your doctor. She or he can help you assess your risks, create a plan to manage those risks, and recommend appropriate preventive care and screenings. A health advisor can also play an important role in developing your personalized strategy, helping you set goals, collect and review your medical records, and connecting you with specialists if needed.