Health Library

Categories > Family Wellness > Preventing illness and disease

Protect your active lifestyle: 6 medical tests that can help

You make an effort to eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise and control your stress. But scheduling the health screenings you need in a timely way is just as important as living a healthy lifestyle.

If you’re seeing your primary care doctor for regular medical checkups, you should already be getting your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked. These invaluable tests assess your risk for heart disease and stroke. But that’s not all you may need. Read over these guidelines for additional health screenings and discuss them with your doctor:

Colorectal screening

These tests detect cancer or precancerous polyps inside the walls of the colon.

When? Ask your doctor which option is right for you after age 50:

  1. an annual fecal occult blood test and/or
  2. a flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years
  3. a double-contrast barium enema with a colon X-ray every five years
  4. a colonoscopy every ten years (medication minimizes discomfort)

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test

This blood test, often accompanied by a digital rectal exam, screens for antigens—enzymes produced by disease—that may indicate cancer of the prostate gland.

When? Annually for men ages 50 and older; earlier for men at high risk. Discuss the benefits and limitations of the test with your doctor.

Gynecological exam

During this checkup, your doctor performs a clinical breast exam to assess the health of breast tissue and lymph nodes under armpits; a pelvic exam to assess the health of the vaginal area, uterus and ovaries; and a Pap test to screen for cancer of the cervix.

When? Annually for the physical exams. The Pap test is recommended every year beginning by age 21 for the regular test; every two years for the newer liquid-based Pap; every two or three years for women 30 to 69 who have had three normal Pap tests in a row.

If you are over 69, ask your doctor for advice.


This X-ray of breast tissue is used to detect changes or abnormalities too small to be found during a physical exam.

When? Annually for women ages 40 and older.

Bone density screening

Decreased bone density puts you at risk for debilitating hip, spine and wrist fractures. A dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan is one way your doctor can assess your risk for fracture.

When? Experts recommend a bone density screening for all women ages 65 and older, and for high-risk women ages 60 and older. Risk factors include early menopause, thin body frame, smoking or alcohol abuse and a family history of osteoporosis. Men should consider getting screened at age 80, or after age 65 if they’ve suffered a broken bone.

Eye exam

Your doctor assesses vision changes and your need for glasses or contacts (or a changed prescription) and checks for glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts.

When? Every two to three years up to age 64; every one to two years beginning at age 65.

Be sure to schedule regular medical checkups, which give you the chance to let your doctor know about any changes or unusual symptoms you’ve been experiencing. Your doctor—who’s your best partner when it comes to maintaining health—may recommend tests not mentioned above, such as a fasting blood sugar test if you are at risk for diabetes or a test to screen for thyroid problems. Remember: Early diagnosis results in the most effective treatment.