The Health Checks to Prioritize in Your 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s
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During any phase of adult life, it's important to have a good relationship with your general practitioner or gynecologist, as these doctors not only manage any illnesses, but they also talk you through a schedule for your health checks and screenings. A doctor's recommendations are generally based on those from the US Preventive Services Task Force, which makes evidence-based recommendations about clinical preventive services. So, what screenings and tests are on your schedule this year? Ahead, learn more about the typical recommendations by age group—including the checks you should prioritize in your 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s—and find out where you can easily access this information to discuss it further with your doctor.
Understand your age group's health-check recommendations.
"We have a wide range of recommendations that are relevant to women across the lifespan, from early adulthood and pregnancy to midlife and aging," says obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Melissa Simon, a member of the US Preventive Services Task Force. "Some preventive services—like screening for HIV, high blood pressure, and depression, and support in quitting tobacco use—are relevant at many ages."
Dr. Simon suggests women in their 20s be screened for cervical cancer with a Pap test every three years. She says women in their 30s can begin choosing between three cervical cancer screening options: A Pap test every three years, an HPV test every five years, or a combination of a Pap test and an HPV test every five years. "In their 40s, women may want to consider starting breast cancer screening, based on their health history, preferences, and how each woman values the different potential benefits and harms," says Dr. Simon. "Beginning at age 50, women should be screened for breast cancer at least every two years."
While age is an important consideration in some cases, Dr. Simon says the need for these screenings can vary depending on other factors, as well: "Women should share any potential risk factors or concerns with their clinician to ensure they have the information they need to make an informed decision about their preventive care."
Preventive care should be considered on an individual basis.
"A woman's age, ancestry, and personal and family history may mean she is at increased risk for certain conditions, so each woman should discuss these factors with her clinician to determine which preventive services are right for her," says Dr. Simon. "It's also important to note the risk factors that may affect how often a woman should be screened vary for each preventive service. Providers will take into account factors like prior test results for related conditions when offering guidance to each of their patients."
Breast cancer screenings, for example, might be necessary before the age of 50, notes Dr. Pablo Prichard, the co-founder of Vincere Cancer Center, senior partner at Advanced Aesthetic Associates, who explains that there has been an uptick in early-onset cases for women in their 20s and 30s; family history or other genetic predispositions should be factored into a preventative care schedule. Regardless of age, early detection, he adds, can ultimately prevent serious outcomes, including metastatic breast cancer, in the long term. "Breast cancer tumor cells tend to grow slowly at first and are localized to the site of origin in the breast. The tumor is usually present for years before it spreads to the lymph nodes and to other areas of the body," he says. "If the tumor is caught in this early stage, then a simple resection or removal of the tumor either with a mastectomy or lumpectomy and radiation can be curative."
The US Preventive Services Task Force's recommendations for preventive services are readily available to doctors and health practitioners, and also easy for consumers to access. Check out the Task Force website or app for the latest recommendations based on your age, gender, and specific risk factors, and discuss your specific concerns with your physician at your next appointment.