Don’t gamble with your health — schedule your health screenings now

Health-screenings_largeIf you’ve been avoiding the doctor’s office during the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, now is the time to get your medical care back on track. This includes scheduling your annual wellness visit and any recommended health screenings.

When you skip or postpone health screenings, you may delay detecting disease. Some screenings allow doctors to treat diseases early before they cause organ damage. For example, lowering high cholesterol to prevent a heart attack and stroke. Or in the case of cancer, diagnose at a more easily treated stage.

Screening recommendations vary based on gender and your personal and family health history. It’s important to discuss your screening options with your doctor. Here are some basic guidelines:

Blood Pressure

All adults should be screened for high blood pressure. Those ages 18 to 39 with normal blood pressure who don’t have other risk factors should be screened every three to five years. Adults 40 and over and those at increased risk of high blood pressure should be screened annually.

Cholesterol

The American Heart Association recommends cholesterol screening every five years, starting at age 20. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening every five years for everyone age 40 to 75, and more frequent screening of those patients at risk of developing heart disease.

Diabetes

The USPSTF recommends type 2 diabetes screening for adults ages 40 to 70 who have a BMI greater than 25. The American Diabetes Association recommends screening earlier and every three years if adults are overweight, have high blood pressure or other risk factors.

Hepatitis C

Starting March 2020, the USPSTF recommends screening all adults for hepatitis C.

HIV

Screening for HIV is recommended for everyone ages 15 to 65. Repeat screening is advised for people with an increased risk of HIV infection and with each pregnancy.

Depression

All adults and children starting at age 12 should be screened for depression. 

Colorectal Cancer 

In general, individuals who are 45 and older should be screened for colon cancer. If you have family history, you may need to be screened earlier, so please discuss this with your doctor. 

Skin Cancer

Currently, there’s no recommended routine skin cancer screening of patients without symptoms. You should screen yourself by looking for new spots, growths, changing moles and other lesions, and alert your doctors to any concerns. That being said, skin cancer is very common and can often be prevented with sun protection. Learn more about the ABCDEs of skin cancer when doing a self-check.

Breast Cancer 

At Ohio State, we recommend all women 40 and older to be screened annually. Additionally, women with risk factors such as family history, BRCA mutation or chest radiation should talk with their physician about when to start screening. Most medical organizations no longer recommend clinical breast examinations as part of screening.

Cervical Cancer 

Cervical cancer screening guidelines have changed a lot during the past 20 years, with the most recent update just two years ago. It’s now recommended for women between the ages of 21 and 65, unless they’ve had a hysterectomy. There are two main ways to test. The first is a traditional pap smear. The second is high-risk human papillomavirus (hrHPV) testing. The latter looks for the virus that causes cancer. The two can be used independently or combined as a co-test. 

Between the ages of 21 and 29, you should get the Pap smear alone every three years. Women 30 and older can continue getting pap smears every three years or they can get the hrHPV test alone or co-testing every five years. If you’ve been receiving regular screening that has been normal, you can discontinue screening after age 65. A vaccine that prevents cervical cancer is now available to women up to age 45.

Bone Density

All women over 65 should be screened for osteoporosis or low bone density. Postmenopausal women under 65 who have risk factors should also be screened. You should discuss this with your doctor if you are at risk.

Prostate Cancer 

Starting at age 50, men should have a discussion with their doctor about the risks and benefits to determine if they should screen with a prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test.

Testicular Cancer 

The USPSTF recommends not screening for testicular cancer. Testicular cancer is usually found by men themselves or by their partners and screening hasn’t been found to be helpful.

Shengyi Mao is a primary care physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and an assistant professor at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.