Skip Navigation Bar
NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Special
Section

Health Screening: What Tests You Need and When

Screening tests, such as mammograms, Pap smears, and colorectal cancer tests, can find diseases and conditions early when they are easier to treat. Talk to your doctor about which of the tests listed below are right for you and when you should have them. The following recommendations are based on the work of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and NIH Institutes.

  • Blood Pressure: Have your blood pressure checked at least every 2 years.
  • Cholesterol Checks: Women should have their cholesterol checked regularly starting at age 45; men every 5 years beginning at 35. If you smoke, have diabetes, or if heart disease runs in your family, start having your cholesterol checked at age 20.
  • Colorectal Cancer Tests: Have a test for colorectal cancer starting at age 50. Your doctor can help you decide which test is right for you.
  • Depression: If you've felt "down," sad, or hopeless, and have felt little interest or pleasure in doing things for 2 weeks straight, talk to your doctor about whether he or she can screen you for depression.
  • Diabetes Tests: Have a test to screen for diabetes if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
  • Mammograms (Women): Have a mammogram every 1 to 2 years starting at age 40.
  • Osteoporosis Tests (Women): Have a bone density test at age 65 to screen for osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). If you are between the ages of 60 and 64 and weigh 154 lbs. or less, talk to your doctor about whether you should be tested.
  • Pap Smears (Women): Have a Pap smear every 1 to 3 years if you have been sexually active or are older than 21.
  • Prostate Cancer Screening (Men): Talk to your doctor about the possible benefits and harms of prostate cancer screening if you are considering having a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test or digital rectal examination (DRE).
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Talk to your doctor to see whether you should be screened for sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV, and, for women, also Chlamydia.

NOTE: Most authorities recommend that, after age 50, tests should include an annual fasting blood sugar check for diabetes and also the following for early diagnoses and treatments: regular colonoscopy for cancer of the colon, serum prostatic-specific antigen (PSA) for prostate cancer, mammography for breast cancer, and enhanced lung CT imaging for lung cancer.

Winter 2007 Issue: Volume 2 Number 1 Page 17