My dad, one of the greatest of all time, died when he was 78. He was loving life and shooting his age in golf when his body gave him an impossible-to-ignore sign it was in the advanced stages of prostate cancer.
A beloved dentist for more than 50 years, my dad did not routinely visit his doctor – a fact he mentioned every time we sat together during a year of chemotherapy treatments. It was during those precious conversations that I solemnly promised to be diligent regarding my own healthcare.
The following annual health screenings are recommended for women over the age of 50, according to the sources indicated. Please consult your doctors, as personal risk factors and other considerations must be made by medical professionals.
- Blood Pressure Test – According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women. A blood pressure test is the only way to know if a person has hypertension, the most common risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Blood pressure should be checked by a professional at least annually. Normal blood pressure is 120/80, or less.
- Blood Tests – When a doctor orders blood tests as part of a routine check-up, the goal is to learn how your body is functioning overall. Harvard Medical School says four blood tests are particularly important for women over 50: blood sugar, lipid panel, thyroid, and Vitamin D. Talk to your doctor about recommended blood tests.
- Body Mass Index – The BMI score can raise attention to health problems such as diabetes or heart disease. According to Mayo’s Clinic, a score over 30 indicates obesity, which can lead to serious health issues. Obesity among women in the U.S. is 65% for those between the age of 45 and 65 and 75% among women over 65.
- Bone Density Test – The Cleveland Clinic says women are more likely to get osteoporosis than men, partially due to the loss of estrogen after menopause. Screening for osteoporosis typically begins at age 65 with a low-dose X-ray called a DEXA scan. Those with risk factors, such as fractures, smaller frames, or family history, may be screened earlier.
- Cholesterol – This blood test assesses the risk for developing heart disease or stroke. Mayo’s Clinic says total levels should be less than 200 (milligrams per deciliter). Women’s cholesterol levels can fluctuate and increase after menopause, putting them at greater risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Colon Cancer Screening – According to the American Cancer Society, about one in 24 U.S. women is at risk for developing colon cancer. Most people should get a colonoscopy at least once every ten years beginning at 50. After 75, your doctor may recommend against the procedure.
- Dental Check-Up – Changing hormone levels during menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause can raise the risk of oral health problems for women. The American Dental Association recommends everyone have biannual dental check-ups, including teeth cleaning and necessary X-rays.
- Immunizations – According to the Center for Disease Control, Covid-19 makes getting an annual flu shot even more important this fall. It also recommends those over 50 get an annual shingles vaccine and a Tetanus Booster every ten years (along with a one-time pertussis vaccine for whooping cough). People over 65, should also get an annual pneumococcal vaccine for the prevention of pneumonia.
- Mammogram – Mammograms are a series of low-energy X-rays that screen for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends women have annual mammograms beginning at age 45, with the option available at age 40. Women over 55 may have mammograms every two years, or choose to continue yearly screenings.
- Pap Test – A Pap smear looks for cancerous and pre-cancerous cells in the cervix and usually includes a screening for HPV (human papillomavirus), which can lead to cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends women have a Pap test every three years beginning at 21. At 65, some women may stop having the test, if their doctor determines they’ve had several years of consecutive negative Pap and HPV tests.
- Vision Exams – While eye problems and diseases become more prevalent with age, many can be prevented or corrected. The Cleveland Clinic says all adults should see an ophthalmologist at least every two years for a complete eye exam with pupil dilation. At age 65, eye doctor visits should be annual, or as recommended.
- Skin Exams – Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States according to the American Association of Dermatology. It’s recommended to do a monthly self-check for new moles or changes to existing moles. Talk to your doctor or dermatologist about any changes and about the frequency of in-office exams.
My dad passed on so much wisdom to my sisters and me, but his last lesson was the importance of being proactive in our own healthcare. The current pandemic reminds us the value of good health. Your community and loved ones need you to live a healthy life for as long as possible. Please make your health a priority and talk to your doctors about these screenings and other recommendations.