Between the ages of 30 and 64 you may be invited for a range of health checks, some of which will be new to you.
As you get older, you're more likely to develop a range of conditions that are rare in younger people such as breast and bowel cancer. Because of this, you'll be invited to have some screening tests and health checks in your middle years.
The earlier cancers and other conditions can be detected, the better the chance for a full recovery.
Screening tests in the middle years
Cervical cancer screening
Under the NHS Cervical Screening Programme, your regular cervical cancer screening tests will continue.
Women registered with a GP can start attending cervical screening from the age of 25.
Women are invited for screening every three years between the ages of 25 and 49, and every five years from 50 to 64.
During screening, the doctor or nurse will insert an instrument called a speculum into the vagina to hold it open, and gently use a small brush to take some cells from your cervix. The test is sometimes called a smear test.
The cells are sent to a laboratory for analysis. If any cell changes are found, you may be asked to repeat the screening test or be referred for another examination called a colposcopy. It's rare for any cell changes to have progressed into cancer.
If your screening sample is normal, you'll be invited for screening again every three years until you reach the age of 49, after which screening is offered every five years until you are 64.
Watch a video about the cervical cancer screening test.
Common health questions about cervical cancer screening, including:
Do I need a cervical cancer screening test if I'm not sexually active?
Can I have a cervical screening test during pregnancy?
Do I need a cervical cancer screening test if I've had a hysterectomy?
Breast cancer screening
Under the NHS Breast Screening Programme, women registered with a GP are invited for their first mammogram (breast X-ray) some time between their 50th and 53rd birthday. This is gradually being changed so that by 2016 the first invitation will arrive between your 47th and 50th birthday.
Breast cancer screening aims to pick up breast cancer at an early stage when treatment is likely to be more effective.
For the mammogram, you will be asked to undress to the waist, and each breast will be X-rayed twice. You'll be looked after by female screening staff.
If an abnormality is detected on the mammogram, you'll be asked to come back for further tests. In many cases, further tests show that there's no problem.
If the mammogram is normal, you'll be invited for screening again every three years until the age of 70. This is gradually being increased to the age of 73.
If you're over the screening invitation age, you can request further screening every three years, but you won't automatically be invited.
Read more about breast cancer screening.
Bowel cancer screening
Under the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme men and women registered with a GP and aged between 60 and 69 are invited to take part in screening every two years (from age 70 onwards, you can request screening, but you aren't automatically invited).
Screening aims to pick up bowel cancer at an early stage when treatment is likely to be more effective.
What happens is that you'll automatically receive a faecal occult blood testing (FOBT) kit in the post. This is used to collect tiny samples from your bowel motions.
You return the test kit to a laboratory for analysis. If you have an abnormal result, you'll be invited to a local screening centre to discuss further tests.
Read more about bowel cancer screening.
Diabetic retinopathy screening
If you have diabetes, you should already be attending annual screening tests for a sight-threatening condition called diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy screening usually takes place at your GP’s surgery, local optometrist or local hospital.
If evidence of retinopathy is found, you'll be referred to an eye clinic for treatment to help prevent future damage to your sight.
Medical tests in the middle years
In addition to the screening programmes discussed above, there are a wide range of medical tests that you may encounter in your middle years, usually at the recommendation of your GP. They include:
The New Patient Health Check
Whenever you register with a GP, selected tests are carried out as part of the New Patient Health Check. Your GP will:
- measure your height and weight
- check your vaccinations are up to date
- ask about your general health
- offer you advice on diet and physical activity if appropriate
- ask you to provide a sample of urine to check for diabetes. If your test is clear, you won't need a further diabetes test unless you develop symptoms
- test your blood pressure. All adults are advised to have a blood pressure check every five years, or every year if you have high blood pressure. High blood pressure can put you at raised risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. If your blood pressure is found to be high, your GP can advise you on diet and lifestyle changes, as well as medication, that will help to lower it
Cholesterol is a body fat in the blood. It plays a vital part in normal body function, but if the levels of cholesterol are too high then you're at risk from heart disease. This is because fatty deposits build up and clog your arteries.
To check if your cholesterol levels are healthy, cholesterol charity Heart UK recommends that all adults over 40 undergo a blood test. This is particularly important if:
- you have a family history of cholesterol problems or heart disease
- you have high blood pressure
- you are obese
Read more about cholesterol testing and whether you should have a cholesterol test.
If you're suffering from symptoms such as tiredness, faintness and difficulty breathing, it’s possible you may have anaemia. If you’re concerned, your GP can check this by doing a blood test to measure the level of red cells in your blood.
Thyroid function test
The thyroid is a gland that produces hormones that regulate your body’s metabolism (the rate at which it uses energy). If it isn’t functioning properly you may experience health problems.
If you have symptoms of an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) or an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), your GP may recommend a blood test to check your thyroid function.
A range of conditions such as asthma can affect your lung or airway function.
To assess your lung function, your GP can perform a peak flow test, where you'll be asked to blow hard into a handheld peak flow meter. If there seems to be a problem, your GP may recommend further tests.
If you suffer from one of a range of heart conditions, your doctor may recommend that you have an electrocardiogram (ECG). An ECG records the rhythm and electrical activity of your heart.
Prostate cancer test
Your GP can conduct a blood test, called a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, that looks for signs of prostate cancer.
Many early prostate cancers cause no symptoms, but if they do occur they can include increased frequency of urination, a weak stream of urine and the sudden, urgent need to urinate. Most men with these symptoms do not have prostate cancer. Two out of three men with a raised PSA level will not have prostate cancer. And a normal PSA level is sometimes found in men with prostate cancer.
How to decide whether to have a PSA test.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become brittle and fragile. It's most common in women over 50, and symptoms include a tendency to fracture easily. If you show signs of early osteoporosis, a DEXA bone scan can help determine whether you have the condition or are at risk of developing it.
Kidney disease test
The government recommends that everyone at high risk has a blood test for kidney disease every year. You are at raised risk of kidney disease if you have:
- high blood pressure
- vascular disease (conditions that affect the heart, arteries and veins, such as coronary heart disease or stroke)
- heart failure
- a close relative with kidney disease
Read more about getting your kidneys tested.
Glaucoma occurs when the fluid that travels within the healthy eye becomes blocked and builds up pressure. This can lead to damaged vision and may eventually cause blindness. Most cases of glaucoma are detected at a routine eye check-up.
The NHS offers free sight tests to anyone over 60, those already diagnosed with the condition, and anyone over 40 who has a parent, sibling or child diagnosed with glaucoma.
Read more about how to prevent glaucoma with regular sight tests.