Screening Tests That Can Save Your Life

Find out which tests you need for a healthier you.

Lindsay Bosslett
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Do you put off health screenings—for blood pressure, cholesterol, cancer and bone density—because you feel perfectly fine? Truth is, even if you don't have symptoms, serious problems could still be lurking in your body. That's why screenings are key.

To find out which tests you're due for, review this checklist regularly and ask your healthcare provider if you need any additional screenings.

For men and women
More than 102 million adults in the U.S. have high total cholesterol, a condition that puts you at risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. 
How often: Once every five years

About 10% of people between ages 20 and 59 have diabetes; more than double that for folks 60 and over. 
How often: Screening should start at age 45 for those without risk factors, recommends the American Diabetes Association.

Estimates show that about one in two women, and up to one in four men over age 50, will break a bone due to osteoporosis, a disease marked by brittle, weak bones. 
How often: If you're a woman ages 50 to 64 or a man ages 50 to 69 and have one or more risk factors, you should consider getting a bone mineral density test, recommends the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

Colon cancer
Regular screening can often find colorectal cancer in its earliest stage, in which polyps can be found and removed before they have the chance to turn cancerous. 
How often: The National Cancer Society advises everyone get screened at 50. Those at higher risk—due to family history of the disease or inflammatory bowel disease—should ask their healthcare provider about earlier or more frequent screening. 

Blood pressure
One in three adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure—yet many are unaware since there are no symptoms. Left unchecked, high blood pressure can damage the heart, blood vessels, kidneys and other parts of your body.
How often: Get a reading at each regular healthcare visit or at least once every two years if your blood pressure is less than 120/80, recommends the American Heart Association.

For women
Breast cancer
About one in eight women will be diagnosed with cancer in her lifetime. Detecting it in its earliest stage with either a clinical breast exam (CBE) or a mammogram can significantly raise a woman's odds of survival.
How often: The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends having a CBE every year. The ACS recommends a mammogram every year for women 40 and over; you should get one yearly as long as you are in good health.

Cervical cancer
Every year, more than 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. But a Pap smear can detect pre-cancerous cells long before they have a chance to develop into cancer.
How often: Young women should be screened every year with the regular Pap test. Beginning at 30, women who have had three normal test results in a row may get screened every two to three years. If you've had normal results, you don't need further testing after age 65, says the ACS.

For men
Prostate cancer
Testing involves the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test and/or a digital rectal exam, and the frequency depends on your PSA level.
How often: Ask your healthcare provider if screening is right for you. (If you have a family history of the disease or are African American, have this conversation when you're 45.) 

September 2012