Basic Facts

It's always better to prevent an illness rather than treat it after it develops. And while some factors (such as your age, gender, and family history for certain diseases) are outside our control, there are many important risk factors that are within our power to change. Steps like pursuing screening tests, vaccinations, and healthy lifestyle habits can help prevent or slow down an illness. Making small changes in your daily life can help you stay active and independent as you get older.

Screening for Common Diseases and Conditions

Below are general recommendations to help prevent illness in older adults. These guidelines can change over time as our understanding of diseases increases. Some screening tests may need to be done more frequently, depending on your specific risk factors. Some screening tests recommended for older adults also may involve short questionnaires or written tests.

Not every older adult needs all of these tests. Your healthcare provider will work with you to determine which screening tests are likely to benefit you, based on your individual circumstances.

Cancer Screening

Screening for several types of common cancers is recommended to detect disease early, before there are any signs or symptoms. This is because treatment at an early stage is more likely to be successful. Cancer screening has important benefits, such as finding disease early and preventing deaths. However, it is important to remember that there are also harms associated with screening tests. These can include complications from the screening test itself, as well as fear and anxiety that could be caused by a false positive test. Screening may also identify a cancer that would never have caused symptoms or death. Treating these cancers with surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy can cause harm without providing any benefit.

People who have a shorter life expectancy due to other illnesses are less likely to benefit from cancer screening tests. It's important to talk with your healthcare provider about whether screening tests for cancer are more likely to benefit or harm you.

The following recommendations are for people at average risk of disease. People at high risk, or people with a history of abnormal tests, may need screening earlier and more often.


Because the immune system weakens with age, older adults are at higher risk for many diseases. Some of these common diseases can be prevented with vaccines. The following vaccines are recommended for most older adults. Your healthcare provider can tell you if there are additional vaccinations you should get based on your individual risk factors. In addition, some people cannot get certain vaccinations if their immune systems are severely weakened from medications or other diseases.

Last Updated July 2020

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