As we age, preventive health care becomes an increasingly important part of our overall wellness plan. From needing vaccinations before entering college to adults undergoing cancer-detecting mammograms or colonoscopies, the list is ever-expanding. So how do we keep track of it all and know when is the right time for each preventive procedure? HealthLinks compiled this list of some of the most common measures so you’ll have an idea when to schedule them.
College vaccinations – Dorm life means you likely are sharing close quarters with several other people. Ensuring you are properly vaccinated is critical in keeping you from contracting or spreading a serious illness. The checklist prior to entering college most commonly includes vaccinations against meningococcal disease, tetanus and pertussis (Tdap); measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); and human papillomavirus (HPV). It is also recommended that college students get a seasonal flu vaccine yearly.
Pap smear – Primarily used to screen for cervical cancer, pap smears have led to the decline of cervical cancer in women. Early detection can provide females with a higher chance of survival. It is generally recommended that women between 21 and 65 get a pap smear once every three to five years, depending on whether an HPV test is also done. Women 65 and older may no longer need to schedule a pap smear, but they should first consult their physician.
Prostate checks – Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer among men in the United States. Ages 40 to 49 is generally when it is recommended that you consult your doctor about the possibility of a prostate screening, but timing can vary by the individual and depend on factors such as family history and genetics. The Prostate Cancer Foundation said, “PSA (prostate specific antigen – the leading method of screening for prostate cancer) screening decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis between the doctor and patient.”
Mammograms – Breast cancer screening recommendations vary slightly depending on the organization. The American Cancer Society recommends getting them annually starting between the ages of 45 and 54 and every one to two years for women 55 and older as long as a woman is in good health. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends that women 40 and older schedule a mammogram every year for as long as they are in good health, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends informed decision-making with a health care provider for women between the ages of 40 and 49 and that women 50 to 74 get a mammogram every two years.
Colonoscopies – A colonoscopy can detect cancerous growths in the colon and rectum in their earliest stages. Sure it isn’t fun, but neither is cancer, so remember that this preventive procedure could save your life. Men and women under 50 should discuss with their doctor whether one is needed earlier, but it is typically recommended that you schedule your first colonoscopy when you turn 50, then get one every 10 years thereafter.
Moles – The recommended frequency of skin cancer checks can vary based on risk. Those groups with higher risk factors can include people who sunburn easily, have blonde or red hair or have a family history of melanoma and those who use tanning beds. Some medical experts recommend yearly screenings for higher-risk individuals. Others suggest conducting monthly skin self-exams in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror, using a hand-held mirror for harder-to-see areas.
Dental checkups – It is generally recommended that people get dental health checkups every six months, but this can vary based on your dental health history. A regular dental exam can help you maintain good oral health.
Sources: webmd.com; consumerreports.org/vaccines/vaccines-you-need-for-college/; healthline.com; pcf.org (Prostate Cancer Foundation); cancer.org; everydayhealth.com; komen.org; Moffit Cancer Center.
By Colin McCandless