Help pack a million meals for struggling seniors on 9-11. Volunteer today


AARP Staying Sharp: Keep Your Brain Healthy


The tablet with free 24/7 customer support. Learn More


Military and Veterans Discount



AARP Games - Play Now!


Learn From the Experts

Sign up now for an upcoming webinar or find materials from a past session.


Planning for Long-Term Care for Dummies

Get expert advice on planning for your own or a relative’s future care needs.

Learning centers

Get smart strategies for managing health conditions.



Heart Disease


Most Popular


What Health Screenings Do You Really Need If You Are Over Age 50?

8 key tests the experts recommend

woman in doctor's office

Health screenings aid early detection and diagnosis. — Ocean/Corbis

As we push into our 50s and beyond, routine screenings to detect health problems become more and more important. Often, the earlier a problem is detected and diagnosed, the earlier it can be successfully treated or managed. Screenings are a critical part of protecting our health. But which tests do we really need, and when? And how do we weigh their benefits against any risks?

Sign up for the AARP Health Newsletter.

The following screenings are recommended for people age 50 and older on a routine basis — that is, for people without symptoms or special risk factors for a given disease. The list is based on guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a panel of experts in prevention and medicine that, after careful review of scientific findings, issues advice meant to guide medical care broadly, but not to determine individual cases.

Under health care reform law, people in original Medicare will receive free preventive screenings starting next January, and most Medicare Advantage plans already offer this benefit. Most of these screenings also are free for those getting new health insurance policies this year, after Sept. 23.

Prostate cancer: PSA

The test: a blood test known as the prostate-specific antigen test or PSA.

The guidelines: The task force recommends against the PSA screening in men age 75 and older, and concludes there is not enough information to recommend for or against the test in younger men. The American Urological Association says the test should be offered to "well-informed men who wish to pursue early diagnosis," starting at age 40 and as long as a man's life expectancy is at least 10 years.

What to consider: Autopsy studies have shown that roughly one in three men over age 50 has cancer in the prostate gland. Clearly many of these prostate cancers would never cause a problem or be discovered without screening. But if a cancer is detected through a PSA test and follow-up biopsy, it's not easy to tell how dangerous it is, and the momentum carries most patients into aggressive treatments like surgery, radiation or hormone therapy, whose common side effects are impotence and incontinence.

Last year, results from a large European trial showed a 20 percent reduction in prostate cancer deaths among men screened for the disease. This benefit (which was not confirmed by a U.S. trial published at the same time) came at a high price: For every life saved in the decade after screening, the investigators concluded, 48 men were subjected to needless treatment for prostate cancers that would not have harmed them.

Next: Mammogram. »

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.


Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Walgreens 1 discount membership aarp

Members can earn 50 points per $1 spent on select health & wellness products at Walgreens.

member benefit aarp hear usa

Members save 15% on easy listening devices and more at the HearUSA Hearing Shop.

Eye Med 4 Membership Benefit AARP Discount

Members save up to 60% on eye exams and 30% on glasses at Target Optical.

Membership Benefits Discounts Email Genius

Brain boost? Get AARP email for access to memory exercises & more that help you focus.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points