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Regular screenings, tests can save lives

Susan Cunningham

Busy schedules and hectic lifestyles can make it tough to get to the doctor for help with a cold or an injury. It can be even tougher to make time for routine screenings and shots that help prevent illness.

But the routine tests are very important, said Dr. Kevin Borgerding, an internal medicine physician with Yampa Valley Medical Associates.

“We want to strongly emphasize prevention,” Borgerding said. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

For instance, catching cancer early means a much better chance of curing it. And, if patients find that they have high cholesterol early on, they can treat it right away with diet and exercise.

Adults, as well as children, need to pay attention to immunizations, Borgerding said. Tetanus, polio and Hepatitis A boosters are recommended for adults who travel.

The pneumonia vaccine and influenza vaccine are helpful to people who may have underlying health problems, he said.

One of the more difficult steps in figuring out which screenings to do is to sort through the various lists put out by different groups describing when different tests should be done.

For example, cancer research groups are more likely to suggest more cancer screenings, while governmental groups could have a screening schedule with the least financial impact.

“It’s not straightforward, unfortunately, for certain cancer screenings,” Borgerding said. Some tests are not perfect, yielding false positive results as well as false negatives.

The best bet, he said, is to sit down with a doctor and discuss what sort of screening schedule is best. That way, if patients have certain diseases in their family history, doctors can recommend more stringent tests for those diseases.

Based on a patient’s family history, Borgerding may recommend a different screening schedule. For instance, patients who have diabetes in their families should not miss a yearly physical, in which they can be screened for the disease.

Here’s a list of screening tests the Mayo Clinic suggests as an example:

n Blood pressure reading: By measuring the amount of pressure produced by someone’s heart pumping blood, doctors can tell whether a person has hypertension, or high blood pressure. Narrowed arteries mean the heart has to work harder to pump blood, which could lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure and kidney damage. Men and women should have blood pressure read initially at age 20 and then at least every two years.

n Cholesterol test: With a sample of blood, doctors can measure how much of each type of cholesterol — low-density lipoprotein, high-density lipoprotein and triglycerides — that a person has. A buildup of LDLs can result in plaques in a person’s arteries. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer among men in the United States, but it’s important that both men and women have their levels checked every five years after the age of 20.

n Complete physical: Adults should have regular physical exams to help doctors detect illnesses and other conditions before symptoms develop and reduce the risk of developing some diseases.

n Colorectal cancer screening: Various tests, such as a fecal occult blood test, a flexible sigmoidoscopy, a colon X-ray and a colonoscopy can be done to detect colon cancer before symptoms occur. People with a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer, or people who are 50 or older, have a family history of colorectal cancer or ademonmatous polyps, or who have a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, should have these screenings done periodically.

n Dental checkup: Adults should have yearly dental checkups to detect tooth decay, oral cancer and any other problems such as grinding one’s teeth.

n Eye examination: Adults should have regular eye examinations to determine whether they need glasses and to identify vision problems such as glaucoma, macular degeneration or cataracts. These exams are recommended aevery four to five years.

n Electrocardiogram: To identify heart injury or irregular rhythms, doctors can record electrical impulses from a patient’s heart using electrodes. This test is recommended by age 40 and as needed thereafter.

n Mammogram: To detect breast lumps that are too small to detect with physical examination and that can be a sign of early-stage breast cancer. Women should have the X-ray done every one to two years after age 40, and then annually after age 50.

Pap test: To detect cancer and precancer in the cervix, women should have a Pap test done annually from age 21 to 29 and every two to three years from age 30 to 69.

Prostrate cancer screening: Through a physical examination and a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, doctors can tell whether a man might have prostate cancer. Men 50 and older should have these tests done annually.


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