Are you one of the tens of thousands of people who procrastinate when it comes to your health? You know you really need to go for that (pick one) mammogram, colonoscopy, bone density scan - but you never get around to scheduling it. And instead of taking action, you just get more and more worried about it.
The Saturday Early Show asked an expert, Dr. David Prince of New York's Montefiore Medical Center, to help sort through all the recommendations in order to come up with a wellness plan. Prior to taping the segment, he answered some questions from our producer.
THE SATURDAY EARLY SHOW: WHY ARE ROUTINE HEALTH SCREENINGS SO IMPORTANT IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Dr. Prince: For most of the diseases we're going to talk about screening for, many patients wouldn't have any symptoms at all to alert them that there was a problem. So routine screening allows you to make a diagnosis before symptoms arise and early enough to actually be able to do something about it.
Let me just say that some of these recommendations we're going to talk about, the timing will vary from physician to physician. These are general guidelines, but you and your doctor can come up with a unique plan for you depending your risk factors and lifestyle.
THE FIRST TEST WE WANT TO FIND OUT ABOUT IS A BREAST EXAM AND MAMMOGRAPHY.
According to the American Cancer Society, women in their 20s and 30s should have a breast exam in the doctor's office every three years, women over 40, every year. And as for mammograms, you may remember there's been some recent controversy over this one. According to the American Cancer Society, women over 40 should have yearly mammograms; some doctors believe in low-risk women, they may be able to hold off until 50.
WHAT ARE THE GUIDELINES FOR CERVICAL CANCER SCREENING?
The American Cancer Society suggests that all women should have a Pap smear within three years of having their first sexual intercourse, but no later than age 21 and every 1-to-2 years after that.
At age 30, women who are at low risk, who have had three normal PAP smears in a row, can be screened every three years. Women at higher risk, such as those with multiple sexual partners, smokers, women with HIV, should continue to be screened every year. And women who receive the new Gardasil vaccine to protect against cervical cancer should continue to get routine Pap smears.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU GET SCREENED FOR COLORECTAL CANCER?
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., so screening is very important for both men and women. We talked to the American College of Gastroenterology who says that all people over 50, with no family history of the disease, should get a colonoscopy every 10 years OR a sigmoidoscopy along tests to look for blood in the stool every 5 years. People with a family history of colon cancer or other risk factors should begin screening with a colonoscopy by age 40.
THE LAST CANCER SCREENING WE WANT TO FIND OUT ABOUT IS PROSTATE CANCER.
The American Cancer Society recommends that all men over 50 have a digital rectal exam and a PSA blood test every single year. Men at higher risk for prostate cancer, such as African-American men and men with a family history, should begin screening sooner. Prostate cancer screening has been somewhat controversial over the past few years because there's been some debate over the accuracy and effectiveness of screening. So the most important thing is to have a frank discussion with your doctor about the pros and cons of early detection and come up with a plan that works for the both of you.
HOW ABOUT SCREENING FOR OSTEOPOROSIS?
There are a number of things women can do to reduce their risk for osteoporosis including increasing their intake of calcium and Vitamin D and doing weight-bearing exercises. The National Osteoporosis Foundation suggests that all women over 65 get a baseline bone mineral density test -- women with a family history should get one sooner.