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Preventive Screenings: Who should get them and when

Detecting life threatening conditions at an early stage can offer the best hope for a cost-effective and successful treatment. That’s why preventive screenings are extremely important. They identify health risks before they become serious problems and, in many cases, can save lives. Recommendations for screenings can vary by age, gender, family history and health risks. How often we should get screened and at what age can become confusing, and if you’re not going to your primary care physician yearly, you might miss a screening.

Below are some of the common—yet valuable—preventative screenings and the frequency of which you should get screened. For a full list of screening recommendations, visit or see your primary care physician.

Recommended Screenings

  • Colorectal cancer screening (using fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy): Starting at age 50. Talk with your doctor about which test is best for you and how often you need to be screened.
  • Diabetes screening: If you’re taking medication for high blood pressure, or your blood pressure is higher than 135/80.
  • HIV test: Get tested at least once, or more frequently if you are at high risk.
  • Blood Pressure Screening: Every two years beginning at age 18
  • Cholesterol screening: Once every five years starting at age 35, or starting at age 20 if you are obese, smoke, have a family history of heart disease, or have high blood pressure

Recommended Screenings for Women

  • Breast cancer screening: Every two years, starting at age 50 (many institutions and physician practices now recommend starting at age 40, check with your doctor)
  • Cervical cancer screening (pap smear): Every three years for women ages 21 and older, every five years for women age 40 – 64
  • Bone mineral density test: At least once for women 65 or older, or for women age 50 or older who are at risk of osteoporosis

Recommended Screenings for Men

  • Prostate screening: Starting at age 50, talk with your doctor about your risks of prostate cancer and appropriate screenings and their frequency
  • Testicular exam: Routinely starting at puberty

For the most accurate recommendations of preventive screenings based on your medical history, talk to your primary care physician. He or she will be able to assess your personal risk of these diseases and disorders and get you the screenings and tests that are best for you. Need a primary care physician? Find one here.

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