For older adults: What screenings do you need?

One important component to living a long and healthy life is to get preventive health screenings for serious diseases. If your doctor finds a disease early, the problem is often easier to treat and may cause less damage. In addition to celebrating milestone birthdays, consider them reminders for certain important health checks.

Here's a timeline for health screenings through the decades:

Breast cancer

This screening uses X-rays to look for breast cancers when they are still small. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends annual mammograms for women starting at age 40. Talk with your doctor about frequency, as well as other possible imaging tests if you have a family history of breast cancer.

Prostate cancer

The ACS suggests that men talk with their doctor at age 50 about being tested for prostate cancer. This screening involves a blood test measuring a substance called PSA. It may also include a rectal exam of the prostate. African-American men and men with a father or brother who had prostate cancer before age 65 should have this talk at age 45.

Osteoporosis

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) suggests that women be screened for osteoporosis starting at age 65. Your doctor might advise you to start at a younger age if you are at high risk for bone loss or a broken bone.

Colorectal cancer

The ACS suggests that both men and women be screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 50. The gold standard diagnostic test is the colonoscopy. If no precancerous polyps are found, you may not need to have it the test repeated more than once every 10 years.

Diabetes

The National Institutes of Health suggests that everyone age 45 or older think about being tested for diabetes. Consider starting at a younger age if you're overweight and have other factors that put you at higher risk for diabetes, such as an elevated blood glucose level, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.

Cholesterol

The USPSTF suggests that men have cholesterol screenings starting at age 35. Women should begin at 45 if they're at high risk for heart disease. Both men and women should consider getting this blood test at an earlier age if their risk for heart disease in particularly high.

Abdominal aneurysm

Men should have a one-time screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm between ages 65 and 75 if they have ever smoked, the USPSTF suggests. This ultrasound test looks for a weak, bulging spot in a major blood vessel in the abdomen. The USPSTF doesn't recommend the screening in older men who haven't smoked or in women.

Screenings are just one step you can take to prevent disease later in life. Other crucial steps include:

  • Avoiding tobacco
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy
  • Getting at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation, if you drink

© 2000-2012 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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