Remember that old saying ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Getting checked early can stop diseases like cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis in the very beginning when they are easier to treat. Screening tests can spot illnesses even before you have symptoms. Which tests you need depends on your age, family history, your own health and other factors. The screening tests change as you age. Women should have regular screening and important screening tests are listed below-
- Screening for breast cancer– Chances of cure are better if breast cancer is detected early during screening. Breast cancers are less likely to spread to lymph nodes and vital organs like lungs and brain.
- Mammogram: These are low dose x-rays that can often find a lump, before you even feel it. Some experts recommend that while you are in your 40s, you should have a mammogram every year. Then from 50 year onwards, you can do every other year. Your doctor can tell u how often to have mammogram if age is younger than 50. For women above 75, there is no recommendation, because not enough research has been done in this age group.
- Breast examination: Starting in your 40s, your doctor will perform yearly breast examination. He or she will visually or manually check your breasts for differences in size and shape, rashes and clumping and lumps. You can check fluid from the nipple. You should see your breast yourself and tell your physician.
- Physical examination– You should have two physical examinations during your 20s. At each examination your doctor should do careful assessment of height, weight, BMI. He may ask you some questions about depression, alcohol and drug use, smoking, diet and exercise, vaccination history.
- Diabetes screening– If you are at high risk for diabetes, you may need to be screened for pre-diabetes every three years starting in your 40s. If your blood pressure is over 135/80 or you have high cholesterol level, your doctor may screen you for type 2 diabetes.
Risk factors are-
- Physical inactivity
- Severe obesity
- Having a first degree relative with diabetes mellitus
- Being African American, Mexican American, American Indian, Pacific Islander and Asian American.
Starting from the age of 40, you should go for diabetes screening every three years. But if you have family history of DM, obesity or other risk factors, then it is to be done yearly or more often. Diabetes can cause heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, blindness, and other serious problems. You can control diabetes with diet, exercise and weight loss and medication.
- Cervical cancer screening– For this screening you have to first of all do pelvic examination. This is important as one can find out any cervicitis and erosion and can tell the patient for regular check-ups and screening with regular PAP’s smear. Cervical cancer is easy to prevent. The cervix is a narrow passage between the uterus and the vagina. PAPs smear fluid can detect abnormal cells on the cervix which can be removed before they even turn into cancer. The main cause of cervical cancer is Human Papilloma Virus, a type of STD. In PAP’s smear, your doctor scraps some of the cells from the cervix and sends them to the lab. Your doctor will tell you whether you need a PAP’s test alone or with HPV testing. Your doctor will tell you how often it should be tested. If you are sexually active, you would need Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea testing also every year.
HPV vaccine can protect women under 26 from sexual strains of HPV. The vaccine don’t doesn’t protect against all the cancer causing strains of HPV, so routine cervical screening is important.
- Osteoporosis– It is a state when person’s bones are weak and fragile. After menopause, women start to lose more bone mass, but men get osteoporosis too. First symptom is often a painful break even after a minor fall, blow or twist. But one can prevent and treat osteoporosis.
- Screening: A special type of X-ray can measure bone strength and detect osteoporosis before fracture happens. This is called as Dexa scan. In this low dose x-ray machine captures the images of bones. This is started at the age of 65, but those with risk factors should be screened earlier. Frequency of the screening depends upon bone density and other risk factors.
Colorectal cancer screening
Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths after lung cancer. Most colon cancers come from polyps. These are abnormal masses that grow on the lining of the large intestines. Polyps may not be cancerous, but if they are they can spread to other parts of the body. Removing polyps early can prevent the disease.
Screening: It should be done at the age of 50, tests are-
- Yearly stool tests
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
- Colonoscopy every 5 years
- Barium enema with contrast
- Computed tomographic colonoscopy
You may need screening frequently. If you are at high risk of colon cancer, you should be screened till 75years of age.
Screening for high BP
As you get older, your blood pressure increases especially if you are overweight or have certain bad health habits. High blood pressure can cause life threatening heart attacks and strokes without any warning. So working with your doctor to control it can save your life. Lowering your BP can prevent heart disease and kidney failure.
High cholesterol level can cause plaque to clog your arteries. Plaque can build up for many years without symptoms and suddenly can cause heart attack or stroke. High BP, diabetes, smoking can cause plaque to build up too. It is called atherosclerosis. Life style changes and medications can lower the risk. To check your cholesterol, you may need to fast 9 to 12 hours. Then you go for a blood test that measures LDL (bad cholesterol), HDL (good cholesterol) and triglycerides.
There are several types of skin cancer. Early treatment is effective in treatment but the most dangerous is melanoma. The risk of skin cancer increases with over exposure to sun. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are non-melanoma cancers. Watch for any changes in your skin markings, including moles and freckles. Pay attention to changes in their shape, colour and size. If gross changes are there, then consult your doctor. Besides this screening for STD and hearing test and eye exam are also required.
- You should get a flu vaccine every year, especially if you are over the age of 65 or have risk factor.
- You should get one tetanus diphtheria booster every 10 years starting after age 19.
- You should get HPV vaccine. It is recommended from the age of 9-45 years.
- If you have never had chicken pox, you should get the varicella vaccine.