Medical Advisory


(Appropriate for our Age Group)

We are hoping this website can be a means of reminding the Class of '72 about medical tests, screenings and vaccinations that most physicians and others in the medical field recommend for our age group.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if this website can help prolong, and even save, lives?

The following information has been compiled from various sources, including the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, the American Diabetes Association, the American Thyroid Association, the American Cancer Society, the Mayo Clinic, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with valued input from our own classmate, David J. Bjorkman, M.D., M.S.P.H.  We are grateful for his suggestions and comments.

As we carefully review and thoughtfully consider the following general information, we should not confuse it for personalized medical advice; it is NOT a substitute for medical advice tailored to each of our particular situations.  Only our respective doctors can and should fill that role.

Blood pressure checks.  Millions of Americans have high blood pressure and don't know it.  We should have our blood pressure checked at least once a year. This is relevant not only to our hearts, but to our arteries, brains, eyes and kidneys.

Weight checks.  Muscle is replaced by fat as we get older, which goes to our waists. And we don't burn calories as well as before because our metabolism is slowing down. Take heed of any weight gain.  Regular exercise is important to maintain both weight and general health.  Exercise also can slow the conversion of muscle to fat.

Colonoscopies.  Dr. Bjorkman adds his voice to others, urging us to have a colonoscopy immediately, for those who haven't had one since turning 50 years old.  While other screening tests exist for colon cancer, a colonoscopy is the most accurate test and the only one where polyps can be removed at the time of the procedure. A colonoscopy should be done every 10 years beginning at age 50.  Some of us may need to have a colonoscopy earlier and more frequently if we have special risk factors, and we should talk with our respective doctors about this.  If polyps are detected, subsequent colonoscopies may be indicated depending upon the nature, number and size of the polyps.

For women, breast exams and mammograms. Because breast cancer risk increases with age, it's especially important for women to get that annual mammogram and doctor's breast exam. A mammogram is recommended every one to two years starting at age 40 or 50.

For women, pelvic exams and Pap smears.  Many women over 60 still need to get regular pelvic exams and Pap smears. Older women can get cervical cancer or vaginal cancer. And the pelvic exam can detect a host of other conditions that may affect health and quality of life (including incontinence).  Pap smears are recommended for women every three years. If a woman is over 65 years old and has had three negative pap smears in a row or has had a total hysterectomy, a pap smear can be omitted.  

For men, rectal exams.  Rectal examinations have been recommended annually. Rectal examinations are included in pelvic examinations for women.  The rectal exam and a Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) are less accurate than a colonoscopy to detect colon polyps or cancer.  Fecal Occult Blood Testing can tell if there is blood loss in the stool that cannot be seen with the naked eye.  It may give clues to treatable problems in the colon (such as colon cancer or other causes of intestinal blood loss).  The rectal exam can detect prostate issues for men.

Eye exams. Eye diseases, such as macular degeneration and glaucoma, are common with age.  Our eyes should be checked every one to two years. Screening can preserve and maximize  vision.  More frequent eye exams are recommended if there are any vision problems.

Hearing tests. At least 30% of people over 60 have some hearing loss, most of which is treatable.  A hearing test at least once every three years is recommended.

Bone density test.  Someone with osteoporosis who suffers a fracture -- especially of the hip -- has a significantly increased risk of permanent disability or death.  We should all consider asking our respective doctors for a referral for a bone density test.  In particular, women should have a bone density test at age 65. If a woman is at a higher risk, a screening test should be done at age 60.

Cholesterol screenings. High cholesterol levels are a major reason why people have heart attacks and strokes.  Thankfully, high cholesterol levels can be treated by diet and medications. That is why measuring our levels of total cholesterol, HDL "good" cholesterol, and LDL "bad" cholesterol is important to do regularly.

Vaccinations. People over 65 should get a pneumococcal vaccine to protect against pneumonia.  At this point in our lives, we should all now be getting a yearly flu shot. A tetanus booster is recommended every 10 years.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that those 60 and older should be vaccinated against shingles. We should ask our respective doctors about other vaccinations that may be appropriate. Travel to different parts of the world requires specific vaccinations, including vaccinations for hepatitis. 

Blood Sugar tests.  In an effort to diagnose diabetes early, the American Diabetes Association recommends that a fasting blood sugar test be done at least once every three years.  Diabetes is a potentially life-threatening condition than needn't be, if caught early and managed properly.

Thyroid Hormone tests. Thyroid problems are easily missed.  Therefore, screening at least once every five years is important, especially for women, and recommended by the American Thyroid Association. The thyroid, a gland in your neck, produces hormones needed for metabolism. Problems with the thyroid can cause hair loss, weight gain or weight loss, fatigue, and depression.

For men, PSA tests.  An annual serum Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test has been recommended for men to check for prostate cancer.  The value of this test and the possibility of overtreatment have resulted in recent changes to this recommendation.  It is worth discussing the issue with our respective doctors to see if he or she recommends the test.

Skin exams.  Although the majority of our sun exposure occurred before age 18, skin cancers can take 20 years or more to develop. Luckily, most skin cancers are curable. The American Cancer Society recommends regular screening.  We should ask our respective doctors to check our skin for unusual moles or skin changes once a year.

Dental exams. Gum disease can be an important indicator of our overall health. The teeth, gums, mouth, and throat need to be regularly examined by a dentist.

Listen to our bodies.  If we notice changes and new symptoms, we should not ignore them. Here is a link to the Mayo Clinic's website page regarding symptoms and possible causes (but we should always rely on the professional advice of our respective doctors when "something isn't quite right"):