Staying strong for your family starts with making sure you’re getting the health tests you need. But with COVID halting checkups and elective procedures last year, many of us are off-schedule—and you may wonder how critical it is to get in to see your doctor. “For any symptoms you’re having, call your primary care doctor and ask when you should come in because we’re here to help you navigate those kinds of decisions,” says Jacqueline Fincher, MD, past-president of the American College of Physicians. “But if you have chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or abnormal findings on a mammogram, for example, you should be seen now.”
Another reason to be seen ASAP is if you have new concerns. “Symptoms that should be addressed include issues such as new breast masses or lumps, discharge from nipples, rectal bleeding, vaginal bleeding after intercourse, new pelvic pain, postmenopausal bleeding and unintentional weight loss,” says Jenna Marcus, MD, gynecological oncologist and assistant professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “Trust yourself. If something doesn’t ‘feel’ right, don’t put off calling your doctor.”
Pre-appointment screenings may include questionnaires about symptoms or travel, temperature checks, waiting in your car, cleaning protocols and PPE for staff and patients. “We also now offer telehealth options we didn’t previously have,” says Fincher. “Some evaluations, such as going over blood work, following up on blood pressure or blood sugars or mental health conditions don’t have to be done in person.”
Five Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Here’s what you should—but may not be—asking your doctor at your next checkup:
- Does my family history put me at risk for certain conditions?
- Are the supplements I take worthwhile?
- Are the medications I take still the best choices and doses for me?
- What else can I do to stay healthy?
- When should I see you again?
Read on for a list of essential screenings, checkups and guidance about when each should be done.
How Often? Every year at your physical or your doctor may recommend more frequently. If higher than 130/80, you should be checked annually. Also, if you have underlying conditions such as diabetes, you should be screened more frequently based on your doctor’s recommendation.
How Often? Checked at age 20, then every 4 to 6 years if normal and you have no risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and family history. After age 40, you may need more frequent screening based on your personal history.
COLON CANCER SCREENING
How Often? Initial screenings are now recommended at age 45, or sooner if you have risk factors such as personal or family history of colorectal cancer or uterine or ovarian cancer before age 50. If normal, then every 10 years. African-Americans may need to screen even earlier.
How Often? 1 to 2 times a year, or more frequently as your dentist recommends.
How Often? Initial screening at age 45, or sooner if you have risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or being overweight. If initial results are normal, testing should be done every 3 years.
How Often? Following your childhood and adolescent exams, get checked at age 20, then twice in your 30s, and once at age 40; sooner if you have risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of eye disease. Then at regular intervals as recommended by your eye doctor.
How Often? Flu shot every year; Tdap booster if pregnant, or every 10 years; shingles vaccine if older than 50. The COVID vaccine is recommended, with a possible booster.
LUNG CANCER SCREENING
How Often? If 55 or older with a history of smoking one pack a day for 30 years or two packs for 15 years, and a current smoker or if you’ve quit in the last 15 years.
How Often? Individualized decision based on risk factors as assessed by your doctor. In general, it’s recommended annually from age 40 or every two years from ages 40 to 44, then annually from ages 45 to 54 and continuing every two years from age 55 as long as you’re in good health and at average risk for breast cancer.
PAP TEST/ HPV
How Often? For women ages 21 to 29, a Pap alone every three years; women ages 30-65, a Pap and HPV test every five years or a Pap test alone every 3 years; or any time you have a new partner.
SKIN CANCER SCREENING
How Often? Frequency is based on your dermatologist’s recommendations if you’re at high risk, such as a personal history of skin cancer, being fair-skinned, having red or blonde hair or a history of excessive sun exposure; or anytime you find a new or changing mole or skin spots or bumps that won’t heal or are itchy, bleeding, scaly or red.