Healthy Aging Month Q&A Part 5

September 19, 2016
Michael Merrill, MD

September is National Healthy Aging Month. Whether you are in your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, or older, there are many questions you may have pertaining to your everyday health. Throughout the month, our medical professional will answer some of the more common questions they get from patients.

Q: What health screenings should I do and when should I get them?

A: That's a big question! 

There are intelligent academic researchers who spend their whole lives studying this problem. The concern is that it's possible to do more harm than good with screenings. For example, if you did a whole-body CT scan on everyone every year, you'd find a lot of abnormal findings, most of which would never kill anybody. They might lead to unnecessary investigations like biopsies and surgeries, which themselves can hurt people. Patients would get anxious. It would cost a huge amount of money. And everyone would get high radiation doses, which can lead to cancers. So common sense doesn't necessarily lead you to the best answer. 

Fortunately, much of the scientific data has been summarized by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF, into specific recommendations, based on age, sex, smoking status, and other factors. For example, the USPSTF recently decided that there's enough evidence to recommend yearly low-dose chest CTs for smokers aged 55 to 74 who have smoked the equivalent of 1 pack per day for 30 years. 

Apart from the USPSTF recommendations, there are certain screening procedures that are controversial, or for which there is little information, or which would apply only to very small numbers of people. For these, the only approach is to rely on the judgment of providers. For example, the USPSTF says there is insufficient evidence to do regular screening blood work for kidney function, but most primary doctors will do this anyway. Another example is that someone with a strong family history of pancreatic cancer might be recommended to have occasional imaging despite there being little high-quality evidence on the topic. 

The best answer to your question is to check the website above and determine what's right for you given your specific situation.

Rochester Regional is committed to helping every patient remain healthy, active and independent. Rochester Regional offers a range of senior care programs and services to our aging community, including independent living facilities, adult day care programs and skilled nursing homes. For more information, visit