One of the main purposes of a regular physical exam — usually annual, especially for adults over 50 — is early detection of disease. Early detection means early treatment, which leads to better outcomes, so regular exams are key to a healthy future.
In addition to overall exams, doctors often order specific tests, especially for diseases or conditions that are asymptomatic, and especially if there are risk factors, either general to the population or unique to the patient.
With time and resource limitations, of course, it is not possible to screen for every human ailment. Decisions must be made based on whether the patient — given his or her age, symptoms, and risk factors — is a likely candidate for a particular disorder. (These are warning signs that you are in bad health.)
For decisions on who to test, for what, and when, doctors rely in large part on guidance from the larger medical community in the form of recommendations from medical or public health organizations, and these recommendations can change over time. In May 2021, for instance, the American Cancer Society released its newest guidelines, lowering the recommended age for colorectal cancer screening from 50 to 45 due to an increase of cancer cases among the young and middle-aged. (Read about 22 medical tests every woman should have, and when.)
To compile a list of the latest recommended ages for important screening tests, 24/7 Tempo reviewed various sources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the United States Preventive Services Task Force. In some cases the recommendations vary due to different risk factors taken into consideration, and it is ultimately up to each doctor to decide which recommendations to follow.