We all need to be aware of and proactive about certain health maintenance issues that can contribute to our well-being and prolong our lives. I would like to describe some of these important health issues for adults to consider.
First of all, I’d like to address the fact that 12,000 women are diagnosed yearly in the U.S. with cervical cancer. A Pap smear to detect this disease can be done during a routine pelvic exam. One should start having the test after becoming sexually active, or by age 18. It needs to be done once a year until a woman has had at least three normal Pap tests in a row. After that, it should be done every three years until age 65, when the chance of cervical cancer drops significantly.
Women also need to examine their breasts to detect breast cancer, which is the second leading cause of death in women, affecting almost 300,000 women annually.
Self breast exams should be done monthly, beginning about age 20. Women should talk to a doctor about how to check their breasts and have a doctor check them every year or two. A good guide for self breast exams can be found online at http://www.breastcancer.org. Go to “Symptoms and diagnosis,” to “Screening and testing,” to “Breast self exam” and finally to “Five steps to breast exam.” It is worth the effort to check it out.
Women should also have mammograms every one or two years beginning at age 40.
Men need to be concerned about prostate cancer. This disease affects as many as 235,000 men a year and is fatal to 28,000. There is an old saying in medicine that if a man lives long enough, he will develop prostate cancer.
Many of us may remember a popular musician from the 70s and 80s named Dan Fogelberg. He recently died of prostate cancer at age 56. He was diagnosed several years before his death and became an avid spokesman for men to have routine prostate exams, especially beginning by age 50.
Yearly PSA blood tests and a rectal exam by a doctor should begin at age 50 and continue until age 70.
Both men and women need to be screened for colon cancer, another leading cause of death. About 150,000 cases are reported per year. This disease is seen rarely before age 40. Colonoscopy has become exceedingly popular as the recommended diagnostic tool for the detection of the colon cancer beginning at age 50, and it should be done every seven to 10 years.
All the above recommendations are general guidelines. If a person has a family history of a particular disease or other known risk factors, consultation with a doctor may provide a more specific plan.
I know the thought of undergoing a pelvic or rectal exam is unappealing to most people, but over the years, I have witnessed many lives saved by those who are willing to follow these precautionary steps by working with their doctor.
The life you save can truly be your own.