7 Tests for Life

Each of these health checks has proven its worth in many studies. Find out which ones are critical at each stage of adult life.


We love medical advice. A new study makes headlines almost weekly and many of us find ourselves altering our habits based on what we read (or at least thinking about it). We may be swallowing handfuls of antioxidant vitamins, eating more fish, increasing or decreasing our workouts.

Yet many of the studies are inconclusive. More tests still need to be done. There are, however, several medical screenings that have proven their value in detecting various diseases.

The American Medical Association (AMA) recommends seven different tests for eyes, teeth, blood pressure, cholesterol, cervix and breasts (women only), and colon, that if done regularly throughout your life, can put you on the path to prevention. The tests don't take long and are done in a dentist's or doctor's office. Age and medical history influence which tests you should have, so it's best to check with your physician.

See descriptions of each test below.

18 TO 29

Test

People not at high risk

People at high risk

Eye

Every two years if you have problems with your vision

At least once a year

Dental

Every 6 months until 21, then at least once a year

As your dentist recommends

Cervical (Pap) smear

Annually for women over 18 and all sexually active women, or as your doctor recommends

Once a year

Blood pressure

Begin at 20; after 20, at 3- to 5-year intervals

Once a year

Cholesterol

At the time of your first physical

If abnormal, follow your doctor's advice

Breast

Monthly self-exam

Monthly self-exam

Rectum / colon

Usually not necessary

Once a year after 20

Recommended screenings and definitions

1. Eye exam Checks for any visual problems or eye-muscle disorders and looks for signs of disease development. At high risk: People with diabetes or high blood pressure or who have a family history of glaucoma.

2. Dental exam Checks for health of teeth, gums, tongue, and mouth, and looks for oral cancer. At high risk: Smokers and tobacco chewers.

3. Cervical (Pap) smear For women only. Checks for abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix that could develop into cancer. At high risk: Women with herpes or genital warts.

4. Blood pressure Detects high blood pressure early before complications arise. At high risk: People with a family history of high blood pressure, heart or kidney disease, or stroke; people who are diabetic, overweight, or on oral contraceptives.

5. Cholesterol test Detects a high risk of coronary heart disease. At high risk: Those who have a family history of early heart disease.

6. Mammogram (breast X-ray) For women only. Detects breast cancer early, before it can be found by physical examination. At high risk: Women with a close relative who has had breast cancer.

7. Rectum and colon exam Checks for cancer of the rectum and colon. There are three tests: a) digital rectal, an examination of the rectum with a gloved finger; b) tests for hidden blood in the stool; c) flexible sigmoidoscopy, an exam of the rectum with a viewing tube. At high risk: People with an immediate family member who has (or has had) colon or rectal cancer, polyps of the colon, or long-standing extensive ulcerative colitis.

See below for test descriptions and to find out who is at high risk.

30 TO 49

Test

People not at high risk

People at high risk

Eye

Every 2 years; if you have good vision, start eye exams at 40

Once a year

Dental

At least once a year

As your dentist recommends

Cervical (Pap) smear

Every 1 to 3 years

Once a year

Blood pressure

Every 3 to 5 years

Once a year

Cholesterol

Depends on results of last test; if normal repeat in 5 years

If abnormal, follow your doctor's advice

  Breast

Begin at 40, then every 1 to 2 years to 50

As your doctor recommends

Rectum / colon

Once a year after 40

a) annually*
b) annually*
c) Every 3 to 5 years

Recommended screenings and definitions

1. Eye exam Checks for any visual problems or eye-muscle disorders and looks for signs of disease development. At high risk: People with diabetes or high blood pressure or who have a family history of glaucoma.

2. Dental exam Checks for health of teeth, gums, tongue, and mouth, and looks for oral cancer. At high risk: Smokers and tobacco chewers.

3. Cervical (Pap) smear For women only. Checks for abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix that could develop into cancer. At high risk: Women with herpes or genital warts.

4. Blood pressure Detects high blood pressure early before complications arise. At high risk: People with a family history of high blood pressure, heart or kidney disease, or stroke; people who are diabetic, overweight, or on oral contraceptives.

5. Cholesterol test Detects a high risk of coronary heart disease. At high risk: Those who have a family history of early heart disease.

6. Mammogram (breast X-ray) For women only. Detects breast cancer early, before it can be found by physical examination. At high risk: Women with a close relative who has had breast cancer.

7. Rectum and colon exam Checks for cancer of the rectum and colon. There are three tests: a) digital rectal, an examination of the rectum with a gloved finger; b) tests for hidden blood in the stool; c) flexible sigmoidoscopy, an exam of the rectum with a viewing tube. At high risk: People with an immediate family member who has (or has had) colon or rectal cancer, polyps of the colon, or long-standing extensive ulcerative colitis.

See below for test descriptions and to find out who is at high risk.

50 AND OLDER

Test

People not at high risk

People at high risk

Eye

Every 2 years

At least once a year

Dental

Every 1 to 2 years

As your dentist recommends

Cervical (Pap) smear

Every 3 to 5 years

Once a year

Blood pressure

Once a year

As your doctor advises

Cholesterol
Depends on results of last test; if normal, repeat in 3 to 5 years
If abnormal, follow doctor's advice
Breast
Once a year
As your doctor recommends
Rectum / colon
a) annually*
b) annually*
c) every 3 to 5 years*

a) annually*
b) annually*
c) every 3 to 5 years*

Recommended screenings and definitions

1. Eye exam Checks for any visual problems or eye-muscle disorders and looks for signs of disease development. At high risk: People with diabetes or high blood pressure or who have a family history of glaucoma.

2. Dental exam Checks for health of teeth, gums, tongue, and mouth, and looks for oral cancer. At high risk: Smokers and tobacco chewers.

3. Cervical (Pap) smear For women only. Checks for abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix that could develop into cancer. At high risk: Women with herpes or genital warts.

4. Blood pressure Detects high blood pressure early before complications arise. At high risk: People with a family history of high blood pressure, heart or kidney disease, or stroke; people who are diabetic, overweight, or on oral contraceptives.

5. Cholesterol test Detects a high risk of coronary heart disease. At high risk: Those who have a family history of early heart disease.

6. Mammogram (breast X-ray) For women only. Detects breast cancer early, before it can be found by physical examination. At high risk: Women with a close relative who has had breast cancer.

7. Rectum and colon exam Checks for cancer of the rectum and colon. There are three tests: a) digital rectal, an examination of the rectum with a gloved finger; b) tests for hidden blood in the stool; c) flexible sigmoidoscopy, an exam of the rectum with a viewing tube. At high risk: People with an immediate family member who has (or has had) colon or rectal cancer, polyps of the colon, or long-standing extensive ulcerative colitis.

  • Eye exam Checks for any visual problems or eye-muscle disorders and looks for signs of disease development. At high risk: People with diabetes or high blood pressure or who have a family history of glaucoma.
  • Dental exam Checks for health of teeth, gums, tongue, and mouth, and looks for oral cancer. At high risk: Smokers and tobacco chewers.
  • Cervical (Pap) smear For women only. Checks for abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix that could develop into cancer. At high risk: Women with herpes or genital warts.
  • Blood pressure Detects high blood pressure early before complications arise. At high risk: People with a family history of high blood pressure, heart or kidney disease, or stroke; people who are diabetic, overweight, or on oral contraceptives.
  • Cholesterol test Detects a high risk of coronary heart disease. At high risk: Those who have a family history of early heart disease.
  • Mammogram (breast X-ray) For women only. Detects breast cancer early, before it can be found by physical examination. At high risk: Women with a close relative who has had breast cancer.
  • Rectum and colon exam Checks for cancer of the rectum and colon. There are three tests: a) digital rectal, an examination of the rectum with a gloved finger; b) tests for hidden blood in the stool; c) flexible sigmoidoscopy, an exam of the rectum with a viewing tube. At high risk: People with an immediate family member who has (or has had) colon or rectal cancer, polyps of the colon, or long-standing extensive ulcerative colitis.
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