Screening Tests That Can Save Your Life
BY: Rachel G. Horn
It’s not a pretty statistic: Up to 75 percent of adults age 50 to 64 don’t get the recommended screening tests they need to stay healthy, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), AARP and American Medical Association. Why not?
Lack of information: Many people don't know what screening tests they need -- and they aren't proactive about asking for them. “Health care providers are busy, and when a patient has a specific complaint, like arthritis, the provider may not think to ask the patient if she has had a mammogram within the past two years,” says Lynda Anderson, director of the CDC's Healthy Aging Program and co-author of the report. That's why it's important to take charge of your own health instead of waiting for your doctor to bring things up.
Cost: People often say the expense holds them back. But what they don't realize is that many screening tests are covered by health insurance or Medicare. What's more, if you skip screening tests that can detect health problems early when they're most treatable, you could incur far greater costs -- and face dire health consequences -- in the long run.
Fear: Many people avoid screening tests simply because they are afraid of getting unwanted results. But for many diseases, treatment is most successful when it's caught early. If you wait until the disease has progressed, it can result in a far worse scenario. According to the CDC’s report, following suggested screening recommendations has been found to reduce your risk of death by as much as 60 percent.
Here, the CDC’s four recommended screening tests to stay healthy and live longer:
1. Cholesterol Screening
High cholesterol raises your risk of heart disease, the No. 1 cause of death in America. You should have your cholesterol levels checked at least once every five years starting at age 20, in addition to having regular blood pressure checks. If you have less than satisfying results, you can improve your levels by eating healthy foods, exercising and reducing stress. In some cases, your doctor may recommend medication or omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
2. Colorectal Cancer Screening
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the U.S. If you're over 50 years of age, you should be screened every one to two years for precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) that can develop in the colon or rectum. If found, the polyps can sometimes be removed before they turn into cancer.
3. Breast Cancer Screening
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer found in women. A mammogram performed every one or two years in women over 40 can detect suspicious growths early, when they're most successfully treated.
4. Cervical Cancer Screening
With regular screening, cervical cancer is the most preventable cancer, and it's highly curable when found early. Women ages 30 to 70 should have not only a pap test (which looks for precancerous cells on the cervix), but also a pelvic exam at least once every two to three years. If results are positive (meaning abnormal), your doctor may recommend more frequent testing. You may also want to consider an HPV test: It looks for the human pappillomavirus, which can lead to cervical cancer.
Rachel G. Horn is a freelance health and nutrition writer who has been published in numerous national magazines and websites, including Fitness, Popular Science and Shape. Rachel is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.