Select periodic screenings could enhance your quality of life and perhaps save it
Regular health screenings are an integral part of the preventive care routines of millions of Americans. Early detection of many types of cancer and other diseases increases the likelihood that follow-up treatments will be successful. In the case of serious conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, targeted testing may afford patients the opportunity to make life-saving improvements in their lifestyles. Some screens and preventive care measures such as mammograms, certain blood panels and even teeth cleanings are considered so important that many health insurance plans pick up the tab.
Conflicting counsel from various healthrelated organizations can be confusing. In addition, certain diagnostics may be age or gender-specific, more crucial for those of certain ethnicities, those with a family history of various diseases and those who use tobacco products. For this installment of “Healthcare Starts With You,” we explore eight primary topics of health concern, all areas where periodic screens may be most beneficial.
Mammograms – Mammogram guidelines differ, but early detection of breast cancer is key to survival and timely treatment. Monthly self-exams are important. Best practices according to The Mayo Clinic include a clinical breast exam by a healthcare provider annually, beginning at age 40, and an annual screening mammography also beginning at age 40.
PSA Testing For Prostate Cancer – The American Urological Association’s recommendations support the use of the PSA test. General guidelines are for an annual blood test and rectal exam for men 50 and over. African-Americans and men with a family history of prostate cancer should discuss the efficacy of PSA screens with their primary care provider.
Screens for Colon Cancer – Early detection and removal of cancerous polyps via a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy could save your life, but there is also some potential for cramping and bloating after the procedure, or, in worst case scenarios, bleeding or a tear in the colon or rectum. Many employer-sponsored health plans are becoming increasingly insistent about participants getting a colonoscopy. The prevailing rule of thumb is to begin exams after age 50, working with your physician to determine frequency.
Heart Health – Cardiovascular disease is a killer. Identifying and managing risk factors such as high-blood pressure, high total cholesterol, and high blood glucose seem like no-brainers, but many populations, including seemingly healthy males, put cardiovascular-related screenings low on the priority totem pole until they get an unpleasant wake-up call. According to The American Heart Association, men and women should exercise, stop smoking and get at least the following basic tests:
Blood pressure – at least once every two years or more if you have high personal risk factors.
Fasting lipoprotein profile – every five years beginning at age 20.
Blood glucose level – every two years.
Skin Cancer – Don’t ignore that mole that’s changed color. Don’t disregard that pesky little scab that won’t heal or that little brown patch with the irregular perimeter. Self-monitoring, combined with a visit to your dermatologist about every two years for a skin cancer screen, will help you both keep tabs on potentially problematic areas.
Vision Health – Most of us are familiar with exams focused on general visual acuity, glaucoma and cataracts. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, by age 65 one in three Americans will have a vision-impairing eye disease. General recommendations call for a baseline eye exam for low-risk individuals beginning at age 18, followed by comprehensive exams every two years. Individuals who may need more frequent monitoring include seniors, contact-wearers, people with diabetes or a history of high-blood pressure, those in visually demanding professions or who have a family history of eye disease. In addition, baby boomers need to get savvy about their propensity for agerelated macular degeneration.
Hearing Loss – Hearing loss often comes on gradually, but simple, relatively low-cost hearing exams can detect issues early on. Some recommend a baseline test at age 18 with follow-up exams every 10 years till age 50, when testing may be prudent every 3 years.
Dental Exams – Many health insurers cover a good percentage of routine, preventive dental procedures like cleanings and certain X-rays. They realize that good oral hygiene can prevent more serious and costly problems down the road. Dental exams can uncover gum disease, preserve teeth, help mitigate painful jaw issues and identify infections, ulcers and in some cases, oral cancer. Though no single screen to identify aberrant cancer cells is 100 percent accurate, heavy drinkers, tobacco users and those with a prior history of mouth cancer may want to discuss additional screenings with their dentist. Recommendations for dental visits: 1 to 2 times per year beginning in childhood.