Your Health at Every Age: Tests to Get, Tests to Skip

Maintaining your health might seem like a never-ending checklist that grows with age.

It can be hard to know which health tests are lifesaving, and which ones are overkill (for the average, healthy person with no family history of the condition). Our comprehensive guide will help you navigate doctor visits through every stage of adult life.

In Your 30s

Tests to get:

Full gynecological exam. The American Cancer Society now recommends a Pap test combined with an *HPV test every five years years—rather than annually—until age 65 to detect early signs of cervical or ovarian cancer.

Skin check. Since skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., Dr. Amy Brodsky of Glenview suggests you start now and get checked every few years. Make visits an annual event once you hit 40. If you’ve had skin cancer or are fair-skinned with light eyes and moles, talk to your primary physician about more regular checkups earlier.

Clinical breast exam (CBE). You should actually be getting this physical exam starting at age 20, so if your doctor doesn’t perform one at each check-up, be sure to request it. And don’t forget your regular self-exams.

Thyroid function tests. Thyroid diseases affect millions of Americans, so it’s important to get screened every five years starting around age 35. If thyroid problems run in your family, talk to your doc about earlier testing.

Blood pressure and cholesterol. These two health tests should be routinely performed at checkups starting in your 30s (or sooner). If the initial results are in the normal range, there’s no need to test annually until your 40s.

Tests to skip:

*HPV. Not all women need to worry about getting an HPV test on a regular basis. If your Pap test comes back normal, you should be fine with just the Pap every three years.

Vitamin D blood level. There’s a lot of hype, but not much evidence that Vitamin D levels need to be routinely tested if you maintain a healthy diet. This test is, however, important for older women with osteoporosis.

In Your 40s

Tests to get:

Mammogram. Starting at age 40, the american Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms. If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor about additional tests starting at an earlier age.

Comprehensive eye exam. Even with perfect vision and no signs of trouble, this is an important test to get because one in three americans will have a vision-impairing eye disease by age 65.

Blood glucose test. The american Diabetes association strongly suggests annual tests beginning at age 45. Since men are more likely than women to have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s especially important for them to be proactive. Those who are overweight, obese or who have elevated blood pressure should start screening at an earlier age.

A physical. Dr. Claudia Tiwet of Des Plaines recommends patients come in every one to two years for a general checkup starting at age 40. At 50, up to annual visits and be sure to ask for blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose tests.

Dental screening. Since early detection is key for many oral cancers and pre-cancers, an exam of the entire mouth and throat during regular dental checkups is crucial. any abnormal bumps or changes in tissue color could be cause for concern. So if it’s been a while since you’ve seen the dentist, make that appointment!

Tests to skip:

MRI screening. Unless your doctor strongly recommends one, you can skip an MRI to screen for cancers or other conditions. Recent studies have found that MRIs are often misinterpreted, so you could be in for a scare.

C-reactive protein. This test that checks for heart disease is generally not recommended because it has not been proven to add any additional valuable information to your routine screening.

In Your 50s

Tests to get:

Colonoscopy. For those at average risk, physicians recommend a colonoscopy at age 50 to screen for colon and colorectal cancers. If results are normal, you should be in the clear for about ten years; however, if you have polyps (potentially cancerous growths in the tissue of the colon) you may need a follow-up sooner.

Tests to continue: Pap test (every 3-5 years), skin check (annually), thyroid function tests (every 5 years), blood pressure (annually at checkup), cholesterol (annually at checkup), blood glucose (annually, unless instructed otherwise), dental screening (every 6 months, or whatever your dentist recommends), mammogram (annually).

Tests to skip:

Prostate cancer. BUT not everyone should skip this controversial test. It’s important to talk with your doctor to make an informed decision depending on your age and what a potential false positive may or may not mean for you.

Fecal occult blood test. Patients are generally safe with just the colonoscopy, but this test is important to do annually for those who refuse a colonoscopy. If combined with a double-contrast barium enema every five years, it can be just as effective as a colonoscopy.

In Your 60s and Beyond

Tests to get:

Screening for age-related eye diseases. The American Academy of Ophthalmology strongly recommends complete eye exams every year or two after age 65 because of the high risks of conditions such as glaucoma and cataracts.

Audiogram. If you’re noticing changes in hearing (or family members are complaining), pencil a hearing test into your schedule. However, this is not a routine test.

Bone density scan. At age 65, both men and women should talk to their doctors about when and if they need one. This is typically recommended every two years to screen for thinning bone mass, which can increase the risk of fracture.

Mental status exam. Your physician will start with a simple questionnaire in the office to detect early memory impairment starting with patients in their 70s and 80s. If this test yields abnormal results, the doctor may ask for more extensive testing.

Tests to skip:

Cervical cancer. If regular testing for cervical cancer yielded normal results throughout your lifetime, the American Cancer Society says there’s no need to continue testing past age 65 (unless you have a history of cervical pre-cancer).

EKG. Unless you show symptoms of heart disease, such as chest pain or shortness of breath, routine EKG or stress tests aren’t necessarily recommended.

 

These are general guidelines for individuals who are in good health with no family history of conditions. Consult your doctor to determine how often you should come in for various tests and especially before skipping major health tests.

Thank you to the experts consulted: Dr. Claudia Tiwet, internal medicine, Advocate Health Care; Dr. Amy Brodsky, dermatologist, Glenview; Dr. Matthew Plofsky, primary care physician, NorthShore University HealthSystem; Dr. Melissa Lopez, dentist, City Kids Dental; Dr. Jim Limperis, dentist, Wilmette; American Cancer Society; American Diabetes Association; American Thyroid Association; American Academy of Ophthalmology.