Simple screening tests for a healthy New Year

Screening tests can find a disease or condition early, making it easier to treat.

Older man having eye examinationFinding and treating medical problems before they become serious is an important part of good health. Talking to your doctor about simple screening tests can help you have a healthy 2011 and can help keep you healthy for many more years to come.

“Screening tests can find a disease or condition early, making it easier to treat,” explains Dr. Sujata Jere, a family practitioner with The Austin Diagnostic Clinic. “Even if you feel healthy, it’s important to have certain screenings done.”

Some of the common screening tests that all men and women should ask their doctors about include: blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, skin cancer, colorectal cancer, vision, hearing, depression and sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, elderly men and women should ask about screening for dementia, a condition that causes problems with memory.

Men also need to talk with their doctors about screening for prostate cancer and how to do a testicular self-exam. Women need to ask about mammograms for breast cancer, Pap smears for cervical cancer and thyroid screening tests.

“There are standard guidelines for when and how often men and women should have these screening tests,” explains Dr. Jere. “But when and how often a screening test is done is also dependent on a person’s individual health history and family health history. For example, if a woman has a family history of breast cancer, she may need a mammogram earlier than the recommended age of 40.”

Dr. Jere recommends bringing a copy of your family health history with you when you discuss screening tests with your doctor. Need a tool to help collect the information? The U.S. Surgeon General’s office created “My Family Health Portrait,” a Web site that helps you create a personalized family health history report. Visit https://familyhistory.hhs.gov to get started.

It’s also important to bring your immunization records so you and your doctor can discuss whether you need to have or update any immunizations, such as a tetanus booster, says Dr. Jere. “The more information your doctor knows about your health, the more likely it is that you will receive the screening tests and health care you need to stay healthy,” she adds.

One of the best times to talk about screening tests with your doctor is at your annual physical. “Every man and woman over the age of 18 should have an annual physical exam,” says Dr. Jere. “That is the perfect time to ask your doctor which screening tests you need this year.”

Worried about cost? Many recommended screening tests are paid for by insurance companies. Once your doctor recommends a test, however, it’s best to contact your health insurance provider to find out if a test is covered.

“Screening tests are usually simple, quick and painless,” says Dr. Jere. “By taking the time to be screened now, you may save yourself from expensive, time-consuming and potentially life-threatening health problems later.”