Just the word "test" brings fear to the hearts of most of us. Whether it's a blank bubble sheet and a No. 2 pencil or those horrifying paper hospital gowns, there's not much we like about it. But health screenings really can save your life, emphasizes Dr. Titus Sheers, chairman of graduate medical education and research at Akron General Medical Center. Here are some recommendations to follow.
Women 40 and older should get one every other year. Before modern technology, Sheers says, "the average breast cancer was the size of an egg when it was found; whereas the average size now is smaller than a lima bean."
[Pap Smear & Pelvic Exam]
If you are a sexually active woman over 21, your doctors will screen for cervical cancer, ovarian cancer and HPV annually, says Sheers. Once women hit 30, they can have the tests done every three years.
There are three different levels of screening for those 50 and older. The first is a card used at home to take a fecal sample, which is then sent to a lab. If you only do that test, do it every year. If you get a sigmoidoscopy once every five years (an outpatient procedure similar to a colonoscopy), then you can do a card every three years. Regardless, Sheers recommends actual colonoscopies every 10 years. "Colonoscopies are the most sensitive; they find the most," he explains. "When you find something, you can do something about it during the screening."
"You're never too young to get skin cancer," says Sheers. He recommends monitoring changes to your moles using the ABCDE approach for self-assessment: appearance (or asymmetry), unusual borders, color (a mole that's more than one color), diameter and elevation. Everyone, even children, should check himself or herself periodically throughout the year.
Men over the age of 50 need to get screened annually, but if you are an African-American male, you need to start at the age of 40. There are two types of screenings, says Sheers: a digital rectal exam and a PSA, or blood test. "Have a conversation [with your doctor] about your risk," he advises. Everyone should get the exam; you and your doctor can decide if the blood test is also appropriate.