Health Screenings You Should Never Skip

December 14, 2018

Your doctor is there for you when you’re sick, but it’s just as important to visit him or her when you’re well. During your annual wellness visit, ask your doctor which screenings you need. Screenings check for signs of disease before you have any symptoms. The earlier your doctor finds any problems, the easier they are to treat.

Here are seven screenings you should discuss with your doctor at your next visit.

Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is known as a “silent killer” because it often has no symptoms. Untreated, it can lead to heart disease and stroke, which are two of the most common causes of death in the U.S. “Have your blood pressure checked starting at age 18,” says Regina Rossi, D.O., an internal medicine physician with Jersey Shore University Medical Center. “Depending on your results and risk factors, your doctor will recommend how frequently you should check your blood pressure.”

Breast Cancer
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that can find breast cancer before you have any symptoms. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening every two years for women ages 50 to 74. Other organizations, such as the American Cancer Society and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, recommend starting younger. “Talk with your doctor about your breast health, especially if there is a family history of breast cancer,” advises Kristen Aland, M.D., an OB/GYN with Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group. “Mammogram screenings may begin at an earlier age for women at higher risk. You may also perform breast self-exams monthly, but it is important to see your doctor once per year for a clinical breast exam.”

Cervical Cancer
A Pap test can find abnormal cervical cells, which your doctor can treat, before they become cancer. The current USPSTF guidelines recommend that women ages 21 through 65 receive a Pap test every three years.

Cholesterol
William Power, M.D., with Southern Ocean Medical Center, says, “You should receive a fasting lipoprotein profile, which tests your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol, total cholesterol and triglycerides every four to six years, starting at age 20. Your doctor may recommend that you have your cholesterol checked more frequently if you have an increased risk for heart disease or stroke.”

Colorectal Cancer
Most adults should receive their first colorectal cancer screening beginning at age 50. There are many different tests available, including colonoscopy and fecal occult blood testing, so discuss with your doctor which one is best for you and how often you should repeat it. “You may need to start getting tested before age 50 if you’ve had a close family member who had colorectal polyps — abnormal growths that can lead to cancer — or colorectal cancer, or if you have inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, or a genetic condition that raises your risk for colorectal cancer,” says Stephen Windsor, M.D., with Riverview Medical Center.

Diabetes
Untreated, diabetes can lead to serious health issues, such as heart disease and stroke. “If you’re age 40 or older and overweight or obese, you should have your blood glucose checked,” advises Dragana Jokic, M.D., from the Joslin Diabetes Center, Affiliate at Raritan Bay Medical Center. “If you’re a healthy weight, you may not need to start blood sugar screenings until age 45. Based on your results, your doctor will instruct you on how often you should have your glucose levels rechecked. But, outside of age and obesity factors, screening for diabetes as part of routine medical care may be appropriate if you have one or more of these risk factors: if your race or ethnicity is African-American, Hispanic American, Native American, Asian-American or Pacific Islander, or if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, history of diabetes during pregnancy or delivery of a baby greater than 9 pounds.”

Lung Cancer
Geoffrey Pelz, M.D., a thoracic surgeon with Hackensack University Medical Center, says, “In the U.S., more people die of lung cancer than any other type of cancer. A low-dose CT (computed tomography) scan of the lungs can detect the disease in its earliest stages.” The USPSTF recommends the test for adults ages 55 through 80 who have a 30 pack-year smoking history (meaning a pack per day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years) and currently smoke, or only quit within the past 15 years. If you match this profile, you should have the test repeated every year.

Find a breakdown of which screenings are recommended by age and gender at HackensackMeridianHealth.org/PreventionGuidelines.

The material provided through Health Hub is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.