Use of five early disease detection tests was examined in relation to history of specific chronic disease and other health habits, as part of a cohort study including 11,888 residents of a retirement community in Southern California. Self-reported utilization rates by residents in the year preceding study entry were approximately 90, 30, 60, and 10% for blood pressure measurement, fecal occult blood test, Papanicolaou test, and mammography, respectively. Breast self-examination was practiced by 37% of the women on a regular basis. With the exception of the Pap test and blood pressure check, the majority of the study population did not use preventive procedures at the recommended frequencies. The most important determinants of use of screening tests in this elderly population were previous diagnosis of chronic disease, especially of the disease detected by the test itself, and having a regular physician. These two factors appeared to affect use independently.