What You Should Know About Annual Screenings

October 19, 2023

Keeping up to date with annual screenings is an important part of preventative health care. Even if you’re feeling great, annual screenings can help doctors catch issues such as cancer or infections and get you on the road to recovery sooner rather than later.

Dr. Pontea Niaki with Mercy Clinic Primary Care – Chaffee Crossing in Fort Smith said it’s important not to skip annual screenings, even if you see your primary care doctor once a year. Screenings do not take the place of annual wellness exams, but they can be performed or ordered during a patient’s annual physical exam, she said.

“Screenings help doctors detect diseases in their early stages,” Dr. Niaki said. “Diseases are easiest to treat when caught early, which is why you should stay up to date with annual screenings, even if you’re feeling healthy.” Family history of certain diseases also plays a role in when you should begin certain screenings, she added.

As we age, the number of screenings we need will increase. It’s important not to be overwhelmed by this, Dr. Niaki said. One suggestion is to try to schedule screenings at around the same time every year, maybe even in January as part of a New Year’s routine. 

Mercy doctor's coat Dr. Pontea Niaki with Mercy Clinic Primary Care – Chaffee Crossing in Fort Smith says it’s important not to skip annual screenings, even if you see your primary care doctor once a year.

Some annual screenings recommended for both men and women by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) include:

·       Colorectal cancer screening for all adults ages 45-75. This is done with a colonoscopy. If results are normal, it is recommended to repeat the screening every 10 years. Alternatives include a stool sample study called Cologuard (done every three years) or FIT test (done yearly), which require a colonoscopy following positive results.

·       Lung cancer screening is recommenced annually with a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) in adults ages 50-80 who have a 20-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.

·       HIV infection screening is recommended at least once in adolescents and adults ages 15-65. Younger adolescents and older adults who are at increased risk of infection should also be screened.

·       Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection screening blood test should be done in adults ages 18-79.

·       Hypertension (high blood pressure) screening is recommended in adults 18 or older, with blood pressure measurement at every primary care visit.

·       Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes screening is recommended in adults aged 35-70 who are overweight or obese.

·       Depression screening is recommenced at age 12 years old and anxiety screening at age 8 years old. 

Dr. Niaki added that patients should also keep up with their immunizations as part of prevention and wellness. This includes a yearly flu vaccine, Tdap vaccine every 10 years, a shingles vaccine at age 50 and a pneumonia vaccine at age 65.

Screenings for women

Most women are familiar with the need for a mammogram to screen for breast cancer, but there are additional screenings that women should be familiar with, Dr. Niaki said. The need for certain screenings can vary based on a woman’s age.

Mercy doctor's coat As women get older, mammograms become an important part of routine screenings.

·       Breast cancer screening should start at age 50 and continue biennially through age 74. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologist (ACOG) recommends starting screenings even earlier, with mammograms from age 40 to 75 every one to two years.

·       Cervical cancer screening should start at age 21 until age 65 years old with a pap smear. From age 21- 29, women should repeat their pap smear alone every three years, then from age 30-65, an HPV test is added onto the pap smear, changing the screenings to every five years.

·       Screening for gonorrhea and chlamydia (sexually transmitted diseases) is recommended yearly in all sexually active women 24 years or younger and in women 25 years or older who are at increased risk for infection.

·       Osteoporosis screening is recommended with bone measurement testing called DEXA to prevent osteoporotic fractures in women 65 years and older.

Screenings for men

The American Cancer Society guidelines for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening are based on a combination of a man’s age and risk level. Men at average risk and below the age of 55 aren't advised to get the PSA test. Men at higher risk within this age range, including those with a family history, may want to consider a PSA screening.

·       All men ages 65-75 who have every smoked should have a one-time abdominal ultrasound to screen for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). AAA is ballooning of the large artery in the abdomen that can be at risk for rupturing.

What affects the need for screenings?

Certain cancers such as colon and breast cancer can be genetic and post an increased risk in family members, Dr. Niaki said. One may need to be tested at a younger age, based on when their family member was diagnosed.

Women with a personal or family history of breast, ovarian, tubal or peritoneal cancer or who have an ancestry associated with breast cancer susceptibility 1 and 2 (BRCA1-2) gene mutations should do a brief familial risk assessment tool. Women with a positive result on the risk assessment tool should receive genetic counseling and, if indicated after counseling, genetic testing.

Pre-existing conditions and lifestyle choices can also place patients at increased risk for certain cancers or diseases that require earlier screening, Dr Niaki added. For example, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, obesity, chronic smoking and excessive alcohol use are all risk factors for certain disease. Patients should reach out to their primary care physicians to ask about earlier screening if they have any of these issues, Dr. Niaki said.  

Learn more about preventative care at Mercy here.