4 Medical Tests to Schedule Before the Year EndsArticle posted in: Lifestyle
Your health insurance deductibles reset themselves to zero at the end of the year, so now is the time to get those important medical tests you may have been putting off. Here are four that are absolutely critical to take care of your health and prevent a few very scary diseases:
1. Skin Cancer Screening
This is an easy-peasy yearly test your dermatologist can do in just about 10 minutes. Skin cancer is not only the most diagnosed form of cancer, it’s one that’s on the rise, says the American Cancer Society. Every year, there are more new cases of skin cancer than cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon. It may affect as many as one in five people. Yet most forms of skin cancer are easily treated, particularly when caught early. Your doctor will perform a full body exam to look for moles, growths or lesions that might be suspicious. The doctor can often take a sample for biopsy right then and there, and eradicate any potentially precancerous spots by freezing them off, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Before your visit, make sure you remove nail polish from fingernails and toenails since skin cancers can form there.
2. Blood test for lipids, diabetes and thyroid hormone
One blood draw can tell you and your doctor plenty. First, you’ll want a fasting lipid profile which includes your blood levels of cholesterol and another blood fat linked to heart attack, triglycerides. Your total cholesterol should be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter. Levels of LDL or bad cholesterol should be under 100 mg/dL. Good cholesterol, or HDL—the higher the better. Anything above 60 mg/dl is consider to be protective against heart disease, says the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Triglycerides are a type of fat that your body makes but that you also get from your diet. Your body turns extra calories into triglycerides and stores them in the fat cells. A high triglyceride level means you may be eating too many calories. Your level should be less than 150 mg/dL.
At the same time you’re getting your blood fats checked, your doctor can order an A1C test which can tell you the average levels of blood glucose you’ve had over the previous three months. A high number (more than 5.7 percent) may signal a prediabetic condition or diabetes (type 2).
Women in particular should have their thyroids checked, which can be done with the same blood draw. About 20 percent of women have underperforming thyroids which can lead to weight gain, among other things. Your doctor will be looking for levels of thyroid stimulating hormone in the blood which may indicate either an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) which can cause fatigue, sensitivity to cold and weight gain, or an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) which can lead to weight loss, irregular heartbeat, sweating and nervousness.
There’s been lots of confusion around mammograms. Different agencies give different screening advice. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends starting annual tests at age 40, while others recommend that you start at 50. It’s up to you. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you may want to start as early as possible. This is an X-ray test, so you will be exposed to a tiny amount of radiation which is unlikely to harm you and, says the National Cancer Institute, the benefits of mammograms—which can find cancers when they’re small and more treatable—outweighs the potential harm. The most difficult part of the test may be when the technician compresses your breasts to get a good view.
If you’ve felt a lump or one has appeared on your mammogram, your doctor might want to have an additional ultrasound image which can show if a lump is clear—likely a cyst—or solid, which may be a tumor. Your local screening facility may also offer 3-D mammograms which uses multiple X-rays to recreate a 3-D picture of your breasts. That may make it easier to see any masses. It’s particularly helpful in women who have dense breast tissue (your mammogram facility can test for that too).
If you’re 50 or over, or you have a family history of colorectal cancer, make sure you get this test for colorectal cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer-related death of men and women in the US, according to the American Cancer Society. It’s also one of the more expensive tests (it involves both a colorectal specialist—often a gastroenterologist–and an anesthesiologist), so you’ll want to get it now when your deductibles are taken care of for the year. This test allows your doctor to look inside your entire colon and rectum for cancer or polyps, growths that can become cancerous over time. The exam takes about 30 minutes and you’ll be given medicine that keeps you blissfully unaware that your doctor is snaking a small lighted tube equipped with a video camera through the entire 60 inches of your colon.
The best thing about this test? Your doc can remove anything that looks suspicious right on the spot. That can prevent cancer from developing. The next best thing? You only need the screening about every 10 years. The worst thing? The prep. There’s no getting around it: You’ll be on a clear diet for a day and you’ll take some very strong laxatives that will clean out your colon so any suspicious growths will be clearly visible. You’ll spend a lot of time in the bathroom and it isn’t fun. But you’ll likely feel just fine afterwards, except for a little gas from the air that’s pumped into your colon to keep it open. And then, there’s the instant peace of mind.