As we get older, it is important to have health screening tests to diagnose and treat possible life-threatening conditions. Here are a few of the most important procedures that should not be avoided.
Colorectal cancer screening – The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 133,000 new cases of colorectal cancer in 2015. The good news is that deaths from colon cancer are falling because colon cancer and rectal cancer can be caught early, or prevented all together through colonoscopy screening. During a colonoscopy benign polyps can be removed before they become cancerous. Colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years for adults starting at age 50. If you have risk factors such as a family history of colon cancer or have had pre-malignant polyps removed during a previous colonoscopy, then you may need to have this test more frequently or at an earlier age.
For women, a breast exam and mammogram – Every woman’s breast cancer risk increases with age. This is why it is important to make sure you are getting an annual mammogram starting at age 50. Some breast cancer doctors believe that exams should begin as early as age 40. Along with mammography, a manual breast exam should also be performed annually by your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor about when you should begin regular mammograms based on your history.
For women, a pelvic exam and pap-smear – Older women can get cervical or vaginal cancer. Also, other conditions can be diagnosed during a pelvic exam, such as urinary incontinence. Pap smears are recommended for women every three years. After the age of 65, and if the women has repeat negative pap smears prior to turning 65, then her doctor may determine that a pap test is no longer needed.
Vaccinations – Anyone over the age of 65 should have a pneumococcal vaccine to protect against pneumonia. Pneumonia infection is one of the leading causes of hospitalizations for seniors.
The CDC also recommends the shingles vaccine for those over 60. Shingles is a painful nerve infection and is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chicken pox and lies dormant in an individual after the initial chicken pox illness. The virus becomes reactivated in some older adults, which results in a shingles infection.
Also, almost all adults should get an annual flu shot, especially seniors. Seniors are much more likely to be hospitalized due to the flu. Many people do not realize that they are contagious with the flu virus even before they start to show symptoms; up to 24 hours in advance. This is why in order to prevent the spread of flu to others such as the very young, pregnant women and the elderly, everyone should get an annual flu shot.
These are just a few of the most important screening tools available to insure that you remain healthy well into your senior years.
Dr. Rideout is the lead physician at AFC/Doctors Express Urgent Care in Saugus, one of 14 Eastern Massachusetts offices, offering seven-day walk-in urgent medical care. For more information visit our website at www.DoctorsExpressBoston.com. Look for our ad in this issue of the Fifty Plus Advocate and read additional articles archived on www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.