Annual physicals are the key to maintaining a healthy life. Not only do annual exams provide an opportunity for doctors to evaluate your overall health and wellness, but they also offer a chance to perform important screenings including cancer screenings as you get older. The American Cancer Society has established guidelines to help you determine which screening exams you need:
Men and women should begin regular screening at age 50 using one of these methods:
- Colonoscopy every 10 years
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years
- Virtual colonoscopy every five years
- Double-contrast barium enema every five years
The ACS recommends screening for men and women at increased risk for lung cancer, including those who:
- Are 55 to 74 years of age
- Have a 30 pack-year history of smoking and are a current smoker, or quit within the past 15 years (A pack year is the number of packs smoked per day times the number of years you’ve smoked, so 2 packs a day for 15 years is 30 pack years)
The ACS recommends mammograms and clinical breast exams every year for women age 40 and older, and clinical breast exams every three years for women in their 20s and 30s.
Pap tests should be performed every three years beginning at age 21 until age 30. From 30 to 65, Pap tests and HV tests should be performed every five years.
Screening should begin at age 50 for men who have weighed the pros and cons of testing and have decided it’s the right choice for them. Men with an immediate family history of prostate cancer and African American men should consider testing at age 45.
Oral cancer exams are typically performed with every dental checkup. If you have a family history of oral cancers or other factors like tobacco use that increase your risk for developing cancer, be sure to let your dentist know, and ask your dentist if you need to be screened more frequently.
In addition to annual checkups, here are some other important steps you can take to improve your health and reduce your risk for developing cancer:
- Be more physically active. Studies have shown sedentary lifestyles increase the risk of developing many types of cancer. You don’t have to be an athlete – all it takes is walking a little more and spending more time moving around.
- Maintain a healthy weight and follow a healthy diet full of fiber and low in unhealthy fats.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you consume.
- Know your family history and your personal risks.
- Use sunscreen and avoid prolonged sun exposure.
- Give up tobacco products of all kinds.