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Written by Tracy Trumper   

The most important regular health screenings

Many of you have started out the new year with a plan for more exercise and better nutrition. Why? Because it means feeling better, looking better and most importantly, it means better health.

Making sure you are staying on top of your health must also include an annual checkup and regular health screenings that are recommended according to your age, medical history and family history. By ignoring this very important recommendation by doctors, you could be putting your life in jeopardy.

As we age, the three most common causes of death are heart attack, cancer and stroke. Screening tests can be performed when the older patient is asymptomatic and healthy so they may not have to suffer from one of those three causes of death or other ailments that may be treated more successfully if caught early.

Everyone should receive the following health screenings: skin cancer, colonoscopy and blood work.

Skin cancer: Monthly, you should check your skin for any change in size, color, texture or shape of a mole, freckle or spot, or for any new marks, as these changes could suggest carcinoma or melanoma, both types of skin cancer. A spouse or someone close to you can help you check your back or hard-to-see places for the same. It is wise to have a dermatologist do a whole-body check of existing freckles and spots to help identify if anything needs further evaluation.

Colonoscopy: A colonoscopy is important for those around the age of 50 and then every 10 years afterward, unless a personal or family history suggests more frequent testing. This screening will identify polyps early so they can be removed before they become life-threatening with colon cancer.

Blood work: An annual check of blood pressure and a blood draw showing cholesterol and fasting glucose are important for disease prevention. Blood work also may include checks for hormone levels, liver enzymes, electrolytes and other indicators for doctors. Blood glucose levels can indicate if you are at risk for diabetes. With cardiovascular disease being the number one killer, it would be beneficial to know if you are at risk early so you can take measures to decrease that risk.

Eye exam: A thorough eye exam is recommended to identify conditions, such as glaucoma, early. Glaucoma is a disease of the eye with increased pressure within the eyeball causing changes in the optic disc and therefore vision loss.

The following are health screenings for women:

—Cervical cancer screenings: Most pre-menopausal women have a pelvic exam each year. A pelvic exam can help detect growths on the ovaries and a PAP smear can detect pre-cancerous cells indicating a risk for cervical cancer. The same type of screening should begin after menopause and be followed by three PAP smears over a 10-year period.

—Thyroid or TSH test: A blood test will measure the amount of thyroid-stimulating hormone produced by the body. Thyroid disease is caused by the body over-producing or under-producing the hormone, causing many symptoms. The TSH score can indicate to doctors whether medication is needed to treat the disease. Annual TSH tests are recommended for women 60 and older; for men it is recommended to start at the age of 70.

—Mammogram: This screening for breast cancer should begin when a woman is in her 40s and should continue every year or two. A mammogram image taken before a woman is symptomatic may show a gray or white shaded area, the hallmark feature of cancer cells. Thus, early detection means better treatment outcomes. A diagnostic mammogram is also done if a lump or other indication of breast cancer is found. Remember to do frequent self exams, checking for lumps in the breasts and armpit, to help with early detection.

—Bone density test: The DXA scan or densitometry is used to determine if one has osteoporosis or is at risk for the bone disease. This scan should begin for women at the age of 60 if they are at increased risk for fractures or have low body weight; otherwise the test is started at the age of 65. There is not a set parameter for how often the test should be given after that, so discuss a schedule with your doctor.

The following are screenings for men:

—PSA test: Doctors recommend that a baseline for the prostate specific antigen be established at the age of 40. A higher PSA score indicates a higher risk of prostate cancer. If there is a family history or high PSA score, then annual screens are recommended. Otherwise, discuss a schedule with your doctor, which may mean re-screening every two years. Again, catching prostate cancer early makes it treatable and has therefore caused the number of prostate cancer deaths to decline.

—AAA screening: Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm is a weakened, bulging spot in your abdominal aorta, the artery that runs through the middle of your abdomen and supplies blood to the lower half of your body. An ultrasound of the abdomen can detect this condition and should be done at least one time between the ages of 65 and 75, especially if you have smoked or have a first-degree relative with an AAA repair.

Remember that prevention and early detection are the keys to health and survival, decreased cost and decreased suffering in the long run. So take the time to make an appointment with your doctor. Take advantage of the upcoming health fairs in Phillips County toward the end of March to have many of the screenings done at lower cost and with less time constraint. Stay healthy in 2012!


Holyoke Enterprise January 26, 2012