Health screenings through the years

January 29, 2015

As you go through life, your health changes and so should your healthcare. Getting the right screenings and preventive services at the right time can help you stay healthier longer, which is why many insurance companies pay for them.

What you need now

Dr. Molood Hadi, an internal medicine specialist at UC Irvine Health, says some exams are important at any age. "Every time you see your physician, you need to talk about weight, blood pressure, mental health, eye checkups and dental exams, as well as your particular health concerns," she says. Here are Hadi's other recommendations:


  • "When you're in your 20s, you're at your optimal level of health and well-being. The main risk is sexually transmitted diseases," she says. If you're a sexually active adult, especially with high risk sexual behavior (such as multiple sex partners), you should be screened for:
  • Gonorrhea
  • Chlamydia
  • Syphilis
  • Possibly herpes, depending on risk factors
  • HIV (get tested at least once)
  • Women only: Have a Pap test for cervical cancer every three years starting at age 21. At 30, you have the option of having a Pap and HPV test together every five years or the Pap test alone every three years until age 65.
  • Immunizations:  If you have not been previously vaccinated, ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine, which helps protect against  cancers of the cervix, vulva and vagina in women, cancer of the penis in men, and cancer of the anus in both genders.


  • Get your cholesterol checked if you smoke, have a family history of heart disease, have diabetes, high blood pressure or are overweight.
  • Have a thyroid test if you have a family history of thyroid disease or unexplained changes in mood, sleep habits, bowel movements or weight.


  • Have cholesterol checks every five years, if previous levels were normal — more often if you have a family history of heart disease.
  • Get screened for diabetes starting at age 45 or sooner if you are overweight and have at least one of the following:
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Family history of diabetes (first-degree relative)
  • Dyslipidemia
  • Hypertension
  • Polycystic ovarian disease
  • History of gestational diabetes
  • Are African American, Latino, Native American, Asian American or Pacific Islander
  • Women only: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force — independent experts convened by the Department of Health and Human Services — recommends mammograms for average-risk women starting at age 50. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists continues to recommend annual mammography screening for all healthy women beginning at age 40. To decide what's right for you, discuss your personal risk and history with your doctor.
  • Just for men: Discuss prostate screening with your doctor at age 40-45 if you’re at high risk for the disease. This includes African American men or those who have father, brother or son diagnosed with prostate cancer earlier than age 65.


  • "Congratulations! You're now eligible for colon cancer screening," Hadi says. Colonoscopy is the most effective screening exam for visualizing the entire length of colon. Colonoscopy is typically performed every 10 years — more often if you have unusual findings on the test or a family history of colon cancer. Talk to your doctor about the benefits, risks, cost effectiveness and timing of the various colon cancer tests. 
  • Women only: Unless you and your doctor decide otherwise, get screened for breast cancer every two years until you turn 75.
  • Just for men: If you're concerned about prostate cancer, discuss the risks and benefits of testing with your doctor, starting in your 50s. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against prostate-specific antigen (PSA)-based screening for prostate cancer.


  • Women should have at least one bone density test for osteoporosis at 65, men at 70 — sooner if you have risk factors.
  • Talk to your doctor about recommended vaccines, including:

  • Pneumococcal vaccine (which protects against pneumonia and bloodstream infections)
  • High-dose flu shot if you're 65 or older
  • Td or Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) booster shot
  • Zoster vaccine (to protect against shingles)

  • Just for men: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends one-time screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm — an enlarged area in the lower part of your body's main blood vessel — in men ages 65 to 75 who are current or former smokers.