Managing your health isn’t always about treating disease and going to the doctor when you are sick.
Maintaining regular physical examinations and keeping up with recommended screenings can keep you healthy throughout your adult years and can aid in the early diagnosis of more serious conditions.
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Primary Care Doctors and Annual Screenings
For most people, primary care providers (PCPs) are the foundation for routine health care.
Primary care is a division of medicine that includes family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics. An ob-gyn also can sometimes fulfill this role for women.
A primary care provider will typically complete an annual physical exam and discuss routine health maintenance, provide care for chronic diseases, and evaluate and treat any concerns a patient might have.
“A primary care provider should be someone you visit at least once a year for your physical exam, even if you are feeling healthy,” says Erin Shaffer, DO, a family medicine doctor with Heritage Primary Care in Waterford. “We enjoy getting to see and know our patients. The better we know you and your goals for your life, the easier it is to make medical decisions together.”
If you do not have a primary care provider, Dr. Shaffer recommends talking with family and friends or consulting online reviews to find a provider who fits your lifestyle.
“The patient-physician relationship is a very important one,” she says. “You want a physician who you are comfortable with and who listens to you. If you meet with a primary care provider and feel they are not the right provider for you, it is okay to let them know or find another primary care provider. Your health is very important, so you want someone you feel confident in and can trust.”
To find a primary care provider near you, visit our website.
Which Annual Screenings Do I Need?
In addition to seeing your PCP, you also should stay on top of your health by getting recommended annual screenings. Even if you don’t think anything is wrong, these tests can ensure you’re in good health or let you know if you need further care.
Depending on factors like your age, sex, and medical and family histories, you might need certain screenings.
Breast cancer screenings
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women other than skin cancer. It’s also the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in women. Because of this, a woman’s interest in her breast health should begin early in her life.
“All women should have an annual clinical breast exam starting around 20 years old, and consider beginning monthly self-breast exams around the same time,” says Mona Janfaza, MD, a breast surgeon with Bayview Breast Care at UPMC Hamot.
“All women at average risk for breast cancer should begin annual mammograms at age 40 and continue until an age best determined by their family doctor or ob-gyn,” Dr. Janfaza says.
However, a patient may have a customized screening plan based on personal and family medical history. Patients can be assessed in a high-risk breast clinic, and risk models can be used to estimate their lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.
“Some women who are determined to be at high risk of developing breast cancer may benefit from an annual screening MRI in addition to an annual mammogram,” Dr. Janfaza says.
To find women’s health services, including mammograms, at a UPMC location close to you, visit our website.
Colorectal cancer screenings
Colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related death among men and women in the United States.
Although most cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed after age 65, the number of cases in people 50 and younger has increased in recent years. Recommendations advise patients to begin colorectal cancer screening at age 45.
Regular screenings can help diagnose colorectal cancer in its early stages, when treatment may be most successful.
Among tests for colorectal cancer, colonoscopy remains the “gold standard,” says Brian Ng, MD, gastroenterologist with Bayfront Digestive Disease.
A colonoscopy is a test performed using a flexible fiberoptic scope that enables a trained clinician to see inside of a patient’s colon (large intestine). The procedure can help find polyps, also known as adenomas, which are benign growths with the potential to become cancerous.
“During a colonoscopy, a doctor can detect precancerous polyps and remove them,” Dr. Ng says. “It can be both diagnostic and therapeutic.”
Colonoscopies are typically performed when the patient is under sedation. The procedure lasts about 20 to 30 minutes. Preparation for a colonoscopy includes a bowel cleanse and a clear liquid diet the day before the procedure.
Other tests are available to help detect colorectal cancer, including the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), which detects blood in the stool. This can be performed either in a doctor’s office or at home, with at-home tests like Cologuard®.
“However, a positive test would need to be followed up by a colonoscopy,” Dr. Ng says. Even a minute amount of blood in the stool, which can result from noncancerous concerns like skin irritation or hemorrhoids, could turn a test positive.
“These tests are useful tools to get people to come in, especially patients with underlying reservations about having a colonoscopy,” Dr. Ng says.
To schedule a colonoscopy at a UPMC location near you, visit our website.
Other recommended screenings for adults
In addition to breast and colon cancer screenings, you may need other screenings on a regular basis. Here is a checklist to help you determine which screenings you may need.
All adults every 10 years:
- Tetanus vaccine.
Age 18 and over (every year):
- Complete physical exam.
- Blood pressure screening.
- Tobacco use screening.
- Depression screening.
- Flu vaccine.
Age 18 and over (at least once):
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) screening.
- Hepatitis C screening.
Age 21 and over:
- Cervical cancer screening (yearly for women).
Age 40 and over:
- Screening mammogram (yearly for women).
Age 50 and over:
- Shingles vaccine (one time).
- Colonoscopy (every 10 years, or every five years with a family history of colon cancer*).
*Recent recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force have lowered the beginning age for regular colonoscopies to 45.
Age 55 and over:
- Prostate cancer screening (men).
- Lung cancer screening for current and former smokers — beginning age may vary depending on insurance.
Age 65 and over:
- Pneumonia vaccine.
- Osteoporosis screening (yearly for women).
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening (for men who are current and former smokers).
For more information about health screenings you may need, or for more information about primary care near you, visit our website.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
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