Health checks by age: the tests you should be having
Your guide to staying on top of your health, through every stage of life.
When it comes to health, prevention is better than a cure. Screening programs are designed for people without any signs or symptoms. So even if you feel healthy, it’s wise to keep up to date with your appointments.
That said, it’s important that you also keep an eye on your body and visit your GP if you see any changes (like a lump, new mole, sudden weight loss or change in bowel habits).
The below recommendations refer to checks and screening for the general population. If you have specific risk factors or a family history of a particular condition, be sure to seek individual advice from your GP.
Melanoma / skin cancer
What: Skin checks. It’s important to get to know your skin and what’s normal for you, so that you notice any new spots or changes to existing freckles or moles. Also help your loved ones check areas that are hard to see, and ask them to do the same for you. Talk to your doctor about your level of risk and advice on early detection.
When: Regularly – your dentist can advise.
What: Dental check-up. Regular check-ups are important as poor dental health can affect not only your teeth and gums, it can lead to problems like malnutrition and infections in other parts of your body.
Teens & 20s
Who: Women aged 18 – 69 are invited to screen through the National Cervical Screening Program. You should start having Pap tests between the ages of 18-20, or 1-2 years after becoming sexually active. Once you’ve had your first test, you’ll be added to the screening registry and be sent reminder letters for future tests.
When: Every 2 years.
What: Pap test*. It’s a quick and simple test used to check for changes to the cells of the cervix that may lead to cervical cancer. A doctor or nurse takes a sample of cells from the surface of the cervix and puts them on a glass slide. The slide is sent to a laboratory for analysis and the results are usually available within a week.
*From 1 December 2017, the Pap smear will be replaced by a 5 yearly Cervical Screening Test for human papillomavirus (HPV). The procedure is the same as a Pap smear, but it can detect the infection that leads to cancer. Until then you should continue to have your Pap test when due.
Who: Testicular cancer is most common in men aged 18 – 39.
What: Testicle self-examination – the American Cancer Society explains how to do this. Check your testes regularly for anything unusual and see your doctor if you notice any changes. A hard lump is the most common sign of testicular cancer.
30s & 40s
Who: Heart Foundation recommends that people over 45 (over 35 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders) have a heart health check.
When: Every two years.
What: Heart health check*. Performed by your GP, it usually takes about 15 minutes. They’ll ask about lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise, whether you smoke, as well as any family history you’re aware of. Your doctor will also take your blood pressure and send you for blood and urine tests. They’ll be looking out for high blood pressure, high cholesterol or kidney disease.
*HCF members, aged 18+, with extras cover can access free heart health checks at selected HCF branches thanks to the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.
Diabetes type 2
Who: Everyone should be screened for risk of diabetes from 40 years of age (or 18 if Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander) using a questionnaire called AUSDRISK.
When: Every three years.
What: AUSDRISK is a short list of questions to help you and your doctor assess your risk of developing type 2 diabetes over the next 5 years. You can complete it yourself or with a doctor or nurse.
You’re at higher risk if you have:
- an AUSDRISK score of 12 or more
- cardiovascular disease
- a history of gestational diabetes
- polycystic ovaries
- a history of prescribed antipsychotic drugs.
Who: People over the age of 50. Currently the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is offered to people turning 50, 54, 58, 60, 64, 68, 70, 72 or 74 years of age that year. By 2020, this will extend to all Australians aged 50 – 74.
When: At least every 2 years.
What: Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT). When you turn 50, the government will send you a test kit in the mail. The test can detect minimal amounts of blood in your stool and involves taking samples from two bowel motions using the kit. These are then analysed at a laboratory, and if blood is detected, further tests may be required. Learn more about bowel cancer prevention.
Who: Women aged 50 – 74 are invited via a letter from the Government for a free mammogram through BreastScreen Australia. Women aged 40 – 49, and those over 74, can also be screened free of charge on request.
When: Every 2 years.
What: Mammogram. Each breast is pressed between 2 X-ray plates, which spread the breast tissue out so that clear pictures can be taken.
Who: Osteoporosis Australia says that men and women over 50 with risk factors may need a bone density scan to check for low bone density and osteoporosis. Some risk factors may also require people under 50 to have a scan.
When: As recommended by your GP.
What: Bone density scan. This measures the density of your bones, usually at hip and spine. You lie flat on a padded table and the arm of the machine passes over your body. The scan takes around 10 – 15 minutes.
Who: Prostate cancer mostly affects men aged 50+.
When: Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of prostate cancer tests. There is no national screening program and doctors have different opinions about whether men without symptoms of prostate cancer should be tested. There is a concern that testing healthy men will cause unnecessary harm and lead to treatments that may not offer long-term benefits.
What: If you decide to be tested there are two tests often used: Digital Rectal Examination (DRE) – which involves your doctor inserting a gloved finger into the rectum to feel the prostate gland; and Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test – which measures the level of PSA in your blood, it doesn’t specifically test for cancer.
Visual and hearing impairment
Who: Everyone aged 65+.
When: Every 12 months.
What: Eye and hearing tests. To assess your vision, your GP will use a Snellen chart (the large chart with letters decreasing in size). To assess your hearing, your GP will ask you questions about your hearing to determine whether it’s declining.
You can also check your own hearing online using the clinically-proven Blamey Saunders Speech Perception Test. It only takes 10 minutes and you’ll get the results immediately.
bowel cancer prevention
Knowing the signs, and regular screening are key to tackling this disease.
The importance of oral health
Dental hygiene isn’t just about teeth, good oral health can also help prevent a number of diseases.
How to prevent a stroke
Strokes are largely preventable. Learn how to protect yourself and how to recognise the signs of stroke.
STIs: what you need to know
It's a health issue we don’t talk about enough. If you’re sexually active, get the facts.