Once you reach the age of 65 you'll continue to be invited to a variety of NHS health checks, and there will also be some new ones.
As you get older, you're more likely to develop conditions that are rare in younger people. Because of this, you'll be invited for some new screening and health tests, while the screening that began earlier in adulthood for different types of cancer will continue.
Screening tests in older age
Cervical cancer screening
From 65, women will no longer be sent an invitation for cervical cancer screening unless they've had a previous abnormal screening result from any of their last three screening tests.
If you've never been screened for cervical cancer, you're entitled to request an examination, regardless of your age.
Breast cancer screening
Breast cancer screening continues up to the age of 70 (this is being extended to 73 from 2016).
Once you're over the screening invitation age, you're encouraged to make your own screening appointments every three years. This can be done by contacting your local screening unit.Your GP can give you the contact details of your local screening unit.
Watch a video about breast cancer screening.
Bowel cancer screening
Men and women over the age of 65 continue to be offered bowel cancer screening in the form of a faecal occult blood testing (FOBT) kit in the post every two years until the age of 70. From 70 onwards, you can request bowel cancer screening, but you won't be invited automatically.
If you have diabetes, you should already be attending yearly 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.
The NHS Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) Screening Programme is being introduced nationwide. The programme's aim is to reduce deaths from abdominal aortic aneurysms (also called ‘AAAs’ or ‘Triple As’) through early detection.
The aorta is the main blood vessel that supplies blood to your body. It runs from your heart down through your chest and abdomen. In some people, as they get older, the wall of the aorta in the abdomen can become weak. It can then start to swell and form an abdominal aortic aneurysm. The condition is most common in men aged 65 and over.
As part of the screening programme, all men will be offered AAA screening when they reach 65 and those over 65 can request it. If you accept the invitation or request screening, a simple and pain-free ultrasound scan of the abdomen will be done to measure the width of the aorta.
Read more about AAA screening.
Medical testing in older age
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 vision becoming damaged, and may eventually cause loss of sight. 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 those who are over 40 and are the parent, sibling or child of a person diagnosed with glaucoma.
Read more about NHS eye tests for over-60s.