As much as we try to maintain our youth through things like healthy eating and exercise, even the most health-conscious person must face the inevitability that the body does decline. We develop diseases like cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes—sometimes due to things like heredity, which can’t be controlled through diet and exercise.
What this means is that, at a certain age in life, we need to consider the possibility of going through certain medical screening tests in order to see whether or not we are at risk of some of the diseases that plague individuals, usually beginning in middle age.
You might be saying, wouldn’t I know if I had a serious disease? Can’t I wait until I have symptoms? One of the problems with this argument is that, in some serious conditions, by the time you have symptoms of the disease, it has become dangerous, irreversible and in some cases, lethal. For example, up to 400,000 individuals in the US died of a heart attack this year. Half of those individuals had no previous symptoms to indicate they even had heart disease. Wouldn’t a well-placed screening test for heart disease have the potential to make a difference in some of these people’s lives?
Screening tests for heart disease include tests for blood pressure problems, tests for diabetes, tests for cholesterol as well as electrical conduction tests on the heart such as an ECG or a stress ECG. The stress ECG is the best test because it measures the stress on the heart when one is exercising.
Similarly, women can be screened for cervical cancer, which has become a global problem. Cervical cancer is diagnosed in nearly 400,000 women throughout the world and kills up to 190,000 of these women. Half of all women who receive the diagnosis of cervical cancer never had a screening test for the disease. Another ten percent hadn’t been screened for over five years. The current recommendation for PAP smear screening is that women of childbearing age and up to 65 years of age get screened for cervical cancer every 3 years. Cervical cancer is believed to be strongly related to human papilloma virus infections of the cervix, which is something that can be screened for as well.
Colon cancer is another disease for which screening can have a big impact and be potentially lifesaving. For example, current recommendations include doing a colonoscopy screening test starting at the age of fifty. The test looks for polyps on the colon that can ultimately become cancerous polyps and invasive cancer. The potential for this being lifesaving is really good. If a patient has a colonoscopy and the doctor finds stage I colon cancer, the survival rate is as high as 74 percent. The same patient who avoids the colonoscopy and ends up with stage IV colon cancer, the survival rate plummets to only 6 percent. Symptoms of colon cancer can take up to ten years to show up.
So, given the odds, what would you do?