The right preventative care at every stage of life can help you stay healthy and maintain an enhanced quality of life, avoid or delay the onset of illness or prevent them from worsening.
The first step to practicing preventative care is having a family doctor — a primary care provider that gives you continuity in the care you receive, the health professional you turn to when questions come up or issues arise, the person who knows your full health history and understands your risk factors (if any). Plus, research shows that people who regularly see a primary care provider have lower overall healthcare costs.
Your doctor will make sure you have access to the right services at the right time. For example, are your immunizations up to date? When was your last tetanus shot? Are you pregnant or have you recently had a baby? Do you want to quit smoking or cut back on alcohol? Are you showing signs of low testosterone or depression? Services exist for all of these scenarios and more!
It’s also a good idea to know your numbers — for blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, that is — if you’re already managing a chronic disease or are considered high risk. While it may not seem like preventive care if you’re already ill, keeping these numbers under control is a great way to prevent your condition from progressing.
And by the way, if you’re middle-aged and something feels off, familiarizing yourself with your hormone levels isn’t just important for women — men should know their thyroid and testosterone levels too!
Screening and testing checklist: A step towards health success
We’ve created a simple guide you can ask your doctor about and that will help you better understand what screenings you need for some of the ‘biggies,’ based on what your category of risk happens to be.
- Cancer (Men)
Because testicular cancer is deemed “low incidence” and treatment outcomes are described as “highly favorable” (even in cases where the cancer is advanced), routine self-examination and periodic clinical exams for this particular cancer are not recommended for men who aren’t showing signs or symptoms or who do not have risk factors (like a family history of testicular cancer). The reasoning is simple: Screenings for testicular cancer can cause more worry than benefit (as there’s no evidence they help prevent a positive diagnosis) and may lead to unnecessary subsequent testing..
Likewise, it is not necessarily recommended that men get screened for prostate cancer unless they are considered high-risk. According to the US and Canadian Preventative Task Forces, men between the ages of 55 and 69 should speak to their family doctor about the pros and cons of getting screened before deciding whether or not to do so. For men who are younger than 55 or 70 and older, screening for prostate cancer with the prostate-specific antigen test is not recommended.
Men in higher risk age categories should be screened for:
Colon cancer → age 50-74, every 2 years
Lung cancer → those aged 55-74 who smoke 30 packs or more each year, or who have quit in the past 15 years
- Cancer (Women)
While it was once recommended that women undergo a screening for cervical cancer (i.e., a pap smear) every year, guidelines have changed to every 3 years for women aged 25 to 65 based on the fact that these tests haven’t been proven to help low-risk women — not to mention they can cause unnecessary discomfort, bleeding and anxiety. Women with high-risk types of HPV that are associated with cervical cancer should follow up in the event of an abnormal pap; in this case, your doctor may recommend more frequent screenings based on your risk factors.All women at menopause should be informed to let their family physician know about any unexpected vaginal bleeding or spotting, as this could be a sign of endometrial cancer, which should be investigated.
When it comes to screening for breast cancer, it is conditionally recommended that women in the 40-49 age bracket not screen with a mammography unless you’re considered at higher risk of developing breast cancer (e.g., if you have a personal or family history of breast cancer). Women aged 50-69 years should undergo a mammography every two-three years through shared decision making with a physician.
Women in higher risk age demographics should be screened for:
Colon cancer → age 50-74, every 2 years
Lung cancer → those aged 55-74 who smoke have smoked regularly for 30+ years, or who have quit in the past 15 years
At present, there is not good evidence for screening for other types of cancers such as ovarian, pancreatic, and thyroid cancer.
- Eye health
Similar to how our physical strength decreases as we age, our eyes also exhibit an age-related decline in performance, particularly when we reach age 60 and beyond. With that in mind, the best thing to do for your eye health is to get yourself an eye exam every 2-3 years if you’re 20-64 years of age. For adults aged 65 years and older, the current recommendation is not to get screened for impaired vision unless you have symptoms or a condition that puts you at an increased risk, such as diabetes.
Note that if you wear corrective lenses (glasses or contacts), you should be checking in with your optometrist yearly — no matter how old or young you are.
- Mental health
It can be difficult to talk about our feelings, but don’t hold back if your doctor is screening you for a mental health issue, like depression. Just as importantly, if you’ve noticed a negative and persistent change in your mood (e.g., feeling down, blue, stressed or anxious more often than not), don’t be afraid to mention this change to your family doctor. They are often your front line to accessing mental health care, and are able to help you get an assessment and the care you need.
Particularly at risk are men and new mothers (up to 2 years postpartum).
- Oral health
When it comes to pearly whites, it’s in our best interest to catch small problems early, especially given the complications that can arise if things like gum disease are left untreated. So while a checkup every 6 months is the general recommendation, seeing your dentist at least once a year is a good start and is really the only way to prevent something small from snowballing out of control.
Note that if your doctor or dentist is concerned about your oral health, they may recommend that you check in more frequently.
No family doctor? If you’re a League member, we can help
Everyone needs a family doctor. If you don’t have one yet, reach out to Health Concierge from the League app to see if there are any in your area that are accepting new patients. This service isn’t just limited to finding new family doctors — Health Concierge can also help link you to a variety of other health professionals!
If none of the doctors near you are accepting new patients, get on a waiting list! And know that the League Marketplace also offers out-of-pocket options for screenings and tests. Just be sure to share your results with a health professional for trusted medical advice and next steps.
Preventative care such as screening and testing is important in helping us to stay healthy; but remember, it is only one piece of the puzzle. Health promotion and healthy lifestyle practices that aim to prevent the need for medical care in the first place should be the cornerstone of anyone’s self care routine.
Disclaimer: for members outside of Canada, please check with your insurance carrier to confirm coverage prior to undergoing any exams, screenings or tests.