The Importance of Screening Tests

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on March 06, 2019
From the WebMD Archives

woman in eye exam

It's often said our health care system is designed to treat sick people, not people who are doing fine. Sometimes, that results in missed screening tests that people need as they get older. Talk to your doctor about these four tests to help lessen your risk of certain health conditions.

1. Colon cancer screening

I find this is the test that people often cancel at the last minute or simply don't show up to do. I recognize that many people find the thought of the procedure as just too unpleasant. But now we have less invasive tests available, and even the preps used to clean out the colon are easier to drink and more tolerable. Current recommendations by most insurers are that people of normal risk get a colonoscopy every 10 years, starting at age 50. Given some data that shows colon cancer is increasing in people younger than 50, the American Cancer Society recently recommended people of average risk start at age 45.

2. Ultrasound for abdominal aortic aneurysm

We often hear about aneurysms in the brain, but they can also happen in the part of the aorta (the main artery in the body) in the abdomen. If an aneurysm bursts, death is almost always certain. Luckily, we have tests than can help diagnose an aneurysm before it bursts.

If you have a family history of an abdominal aneurysm, or if you are a man aged 65-75 who has ever smoked cigarettes during your lifetime, you should get an ultrasound of your abdomen at least once.

3. Lung cancer screening

We have learned over the years that routine, yearly chest X-rays are not cost-effective for diagnosing lung cancer. But doctors do recommend a low-dose CT scan for anyone 55 to 80 who has a 30-pack-year smoking history (that is, one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years) and currently smokes or has quit within the last 15 years.

4. Comprehensive eye exams

Vision plays such an important role in everyone's life. Even not being able to read fine print that often happens as you age can make life less pleasant. Unfortunately, eye conditions such as glaucoma and macular degeneration often have no symptoms until vision loss is significant. That's why it is so important to get comprehensive eye exams. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that most adults have such an exam at age 40. For adults 40-54 who don’t have issues that raise their odds of eye disorders, the screening recommendation is every 2-4 years. If you're 55-64, you should be screened every 1- 3 years; if you're older than 65, you should get a comprehensive eye exam every 1-2 years.

Questions? Comments? Email me at [email protected].

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