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The Health Screening Tests You Need

Experts no longer recommend an annual physical, but healthy adults without symptoms should undergo the major screening tests outlined here. Our advice is based largely on recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Many insurers and Medicare cover nearly all of the services mentioned in this chart.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm

Who needs it: Men 65 to 75 who ever smoked (at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime).

How often: Once.

What else: Some experts think that men over 75 who smoked should also be tested.

Blood pressure

Who needs it: All adults, to detect hypertension.

How often: Every 2 years for those with normal blood pressure.

What else: More frequently for those over 60 and anyone with readings over 120/80 mm Hg.

Bone-density testing

Who needs it: Women 65 and over; younger women at high risk for bone loss.

How often: On professional advice.

What else: Risk factors include being small-boned, sedentary, a heavy drinker or a smoker, or having a personal or family history of osteoporosis.

Breast cancer screening (mammography)

Who needs it: All women 50 to 74; those at higher risk may need to start earlier. Consult your doctor if you’re over 75; screening may no longer be necessary.

How often: Every 1 to 2 years.

What else: Certain women at high risk may benefit from MRI scans and clinical breast exams. Consult your doctor.

Cholesterol measurement

Who needs it: All adults (including HDL, LDL, and triglycerides)

How often: Every 5 years. More often if any results are abnormal or if other risk factors are present.

What else: Those at high risk for heart disease need medical advice about lifestyle changes and, possibly, drug therapy.

Chlamydia screening

Who needs it: Women at increased risk (such as those with multiple sexual partners).

How often: Annually, or more often.

What else: Male partners who have had unprotected sex also should be tested.

Colorectal cancer screening

Who needs it: Everyone 50 to 75 (fecal occult blood test, fecal immunochemical test, sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy). Those at higher risk need to start earlier. People age 76 to 85 should talk with their doctors about whether screening is still advisable. Screening is not recom- mended after age 85.

How often: Fecal immunochemical test annually. Or a highly sensitive fecal occult blood test or FIT every 3 years plus sigmoidoscopy every 5 years. Or colonoscopy every 10 years.

What else: X-ray with barium enema or CT (“virtual”) colonoscopy also may be done. Those with abnormal results need more frequent screening.

Dental checkup

Who needs it: All adults.

How often: Every 6 months, or on professional advice.

Promo block

What else: Should include cleaning and exam for oral cancer.

Diabetes screening

Who needs it: Everyone 45 and older; earlier for those at high risk. Women with a history of gestational diabetes should consult their physician.

How often: Every 2 to 3 years.

What else: Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, obese people, and those with a strong family history need more frequent screening, starting at age 30.

Glaucoma screening

Who needs it: People at high risk: those over 65, very nearsighted, or diabetic; blacks over 40; those with a family history of glaucoma.

How often: On professional advice of an eye specialist.

What else: Benefits of routine screening remain unproved. Still, most eye specialists advise testing all adults 40 and over every 3 to 5 years.

Lung cancer

Who needs it: Current or former smokers (30+ “pack-years”), age 55 to 79.

How often: Annually.

What else: Discuss the pros and cons of screening with your doctor.

Pap test

Who needs it: All adult women (regardless of their sexual history, for early detection of cervical cancer).

How often: Every 2 years until 30 if results are normal, then every 3 years until 65. Women who smoke, have multiple sex partners, or other risk factors should be tested more often.

What else: At age 65, women should discontinue testing if they have had at least three consecutive normal test results and no abnormal results in the past 10 years. Women who have had their cervix removed do not need testing.

Prostate cancer screening (PSA)

Who needs it: Routine screening for men is no longer advised.

How often: On professional advice.

What else: If you are over 50, discuss the pros and cons of screening with your doctor.

Thyroid disease screening

Who needs it: Women 50 and over; those with high cholesterol, family history, or other risk factors.

How often: On professional advice.

What else: Routine screening remains controversial. Talk to your doctor about risk factors.

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