Harvard Men's Health Watch

Why have an annual exam?

Q. I see my doctor every year for an annual physical examination. I recently heard that people who have annual physicals don't really live any longer. Should I still go?

A. I think it is worth doing, but not for the reasons you might expect. A recent analysis of past research found that annual exams do not reduce deaths from cancer or heart disease, which are the leading causes of death. On the other hand, many of the studies that were reviewed date back to a time when fewer preventive services were available, which might explain why people benefited less.

But even if routine check-ups don't promise a longer life, there are other important benefits. Office visits help you establish a relationship with your primary care provider. They allow your doctor to understand how you prefer to approach your health issues, which is important when choosing the best treatment for you. In addition, an established and trusting relationship is essential when you are faced with a major health problem. An annual exam also establishes your "baseline" health and physical status. Although medical studies are unlikely to demonstrate how this helps, most physicians will confirm that having a baseline helps them diagnose a new condition if it arises.

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