In the Spotlight

Screening - When should I do what?

Contributed by Dr. Marianne Shaughnessey, Dr. Linda Kinsinger

As you age, being aware of issues related to health becomes more important. Several illnesses appear more frequently with increasing age. For example, illnesses like high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, high blood cholesterol (hyperlipidemia), and some types of cancer. Screening is done to find a condition (or risk factor) in a person who has no signs or symptoms of that condition. The goal of screening is to identify conditions early. Treatment works better during an early stage of a condition.

Guidance for screening varies, depending on age, gender, past medical history, family history, and other factors. Talk with your healthcare team about the screening tests that are recommended for you. The United States Preventive Services Task Force has studied the effectiveness of screening tests and suggested the following:

Guidance for Screening
Guidance for Screening
Health Measure How Often
Blood pressure
For High Blood Pressure, also known as Hypertension
At least every two years
Lipid profile
For High Cholesterol, also known as Hyperlipidemia
Every 5 years. May need to be more often if already diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease.
Blood glucose
For High Blood Sugar, also known as Diabetes
Periodically in patients with blood pressure of 135/80 or higher
For being more than 20 pounds overweight, also known as Obesity
Bone mineral density
For loss of bone health, also known as Osteoporosis
At least once in all women at age 65
May need to screen at age 60 if at increased risk for osteoporosis.
For Abdominal Aortic Aneurism
Once in men ages 65 to 75 who have ever smoked
Screening (for Alcohol Use and Depression) Periodically

Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) (for Colorectal Cancer)
Sigmoidoscopy (for Colorectal Cancer)
Colonoscopy (for Colorectal Cancer)
For persons age 50 to 75
Every 5 years
Every 10 years
For Breast Cancer
Every 1-2 years
Pap Smear
For Cervical Cancer
At least every 3 years, stopping at age 65 if previous Pap Smears have been normal
Guidance for Immunizations
Vaccine How Often
Once at age 65
May be recommended earlier for persons at increased risk of complications of pneumonia
Once at age 60 or later for most people
Every 10 years

Having a personal screening plan is helpful for all adults, as they get older. These guidelines are general, not specific. Your screening plan should be custom made based on your personal medical history and risk factor profile. Talk to your provider and make sure you understand your personal screening plan.

Some problems become more important as you age. For example, your primary care provider will ask you about falls and near falls. Staying as active as possible will lessen your likelihood of falls. Stay active and exercise 150 minutes (two and a half hours) each week, at least 10 minutes at a time. Your primary care provider may suggest other tips to keep you healthy. These may include taking aspirin(low dose daily), taking calcium supplements (1200 mg daily), or other medications. Discuss these with your provider.

Learn More

Senior's Health (Medline Plus)

Salud de las personas mayores (Medline Plus) (en EspaƱol)

Screening Tests for Adults (50 and Up) (Lab Tests Online)

Interactive Tutorials (Patient Education Institute)

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm



Exercising for a Healthy Life


Managing Cholesterol

Pap Smear



Advanced Information

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality)

Updated/Reviewed: September 30, 2009