In a perfect world, we'd all know exactly when we need to get our important health screenings. In reality, however, these checkups and exams often take a backseat to work, family, and other obligations.

Fortunately, you can get on the right track by making a simple phone call to your doctor. He or she can recommend self-tests, help you schedule screenings that may uncover health problems early, and make suggestions based on your family history or other risk factors.

For general guidelines relevant to your gender and age group, follow this list compiled by the physicians at Baylor Medical Center at Waxahachie, Texas

Men and Women Under 40

  • Blood pressure

    Age 18 and older, every two years if normal.
  • Cholesterol

    Starting at age 20, at least every five years.
  • Skin cancer

    Adults 20 to 39, every three years. Self-test: Once a month, look over your skin for any changes.
  • Diabetes

    Talk to your doctor about including a fasting glucose test as part of your annual physical if you have a family history of diabetes or personal history of gestational diabetes, if you're overweight and don't exercise, or if you're Alaskan Eskimo, Native American, African American, Hispanic, Asian American, or Pacific Islander. Other risk factors include a history of polycystic ovarian syndrome, cardiovascular disease or impaired fasting glucose from previous testing.

Women Under 40

  • Breast self-exam

    No one knows your body as well as you do, so check your breasts every month for any abnormalities. Even if you're not sure about what you find, get it checked out anyway just to be on the safe side, says Dr. Jasbir Singh, a Baylor gynecologist.
  • Breast exam by a physician

    This should be conducted annually.
  • Pap smear

    Annually beginning at age 21 or as soon as sexually active.


Men Under 40

  • Testicular self-exam

    Conduct a self-exam once a month, checking each testicle for any lumps or swelling.

Men and Women Over 40

  • Continue self-tests and screenings recommended for those under 40.
  • Skin cancer

    Get checked by a dermatologist once a year after age 40.
  • Colorectal cancer

    Have a sigmoidoscopy with digital rectal exam every five years starting at age 50, or consider a colonoscopy every 10 years starting at age 50. Consider having a fecal occult blood test annually after age 50. The test is linked with a 33 percent reduction in death from colorectal cancer, which is impressive for a test that's very easy to do, says Dr. Jason Nordstrom, a Baylor internist.

Women Over 40


  • Clinical breast exam

    This should be conducted by a physician annually after age 40.
  • Mammogram

    Annually, starting at age 40. Note: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force updated its recommendations to state that mammogram screenings be done every 2 years, starting at age 50. Your doctor can assess your screening needs.  
  • Bone density scan

    Ask your doctor whether you should have a bone density scan to check for osteoporosis. If you're over 65, you should have your bone density tested.

Men Over 40

  • Prostate cancer

    The American Cancer Society recommends a digital rectal exam and a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test annually for men 50 and older. If you're African American and/or have a family history of prostate cancer, you should have a digital exam and PSA annually starting at age 40.