The Top Health Screenings That Should Be on Your Radar in 2019

A lot of time in my office is spent counseling patients on the prevention of health problems, such as cancer and heart disease. Based on that experience, here’s my advice for keeping yourself healthy in 2019, along with the screenings that are most important.

Cancer is top of mind for me because according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), in 2018, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer would be diagnosed in the United States, and 609,640 people would die from the disease.

In addition, the NCI states that, “the most common cancers (listed in descending order according to estimated new cases in 2018) are breast cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, prostate cancer, colon and rectum cancer, melanoma of the skin, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney and renal pelvis cancer, endometrial cancer, leukemia, pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer and liver cancer.”

But there are steps you can take to prevent and monitor disease. So what is the appropriate screening, and at what age do you begin?

Breast Cancer Screening

Breast cancer screenings are the most common topic among young women. Your baseline mammogram should be at age 40. If there is a strong family history—meaning your mom or sister—screenings should begin earlier.

Not all breast cancers are hereditary, and some women will not be considered a higher-than-normal risk, but it is important to discuss any family history with your doctor. The way to properly screen for breast cancer is currently under review by the American College of Radiology.

At younger ages (under 40), women should have yearly breast exams at your gynecologist or internist, and any new lumps that you might discover on your own need to be brought to your doctor’s attention.

Pelvic Exam and Pap Smear

When seeing your gynecologist for a yearly breast exam, she or he will perform a pelvic exam and do a Pap smear looking for abnormal cervical cells. Cervical cancer is a preventable disease by yearly or biyearly pap smears and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination.

Most young women are vaccinated against HPV, which is responsible for over 90 percent of cervical cancers. There are four stages to a Pap smear, ranging from normal to atypical to cancer. The good news about frequent screenings is that your doctor can remove atypical cervical cells, and cancer can be prevented.

Colon Cancer Screening

Colon cancer screenings typically begin around age 50, with a screening colonoscopy for both men and women.

On a personal practice note, I start doing noninvasive at-home colon cancer screening tests for patients starting at age 35. The test, called Hemoccult cards, can easily be done at home, is noninvasive and yields a great deal of information. I have started to see colon cancer in younger and younger patients over the years, perhaps due to our diet.

Bottom Line: A Healthy Lifestyle Is Key

Lifestyle is key to preventing cancer and heart disease. Preventative measures, such as not smoking, eating healthy (less saturated fat and red meat), exercising and wearing sunscreen, can all help.

To put this in perspective, the American Lung Association states that, “80 to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in both men and women are due to smoking.” One change in lifestyle—stopping smoking—can save lives.

How to Save on Medications, Should You Need Them

If your doctor tells you that your sugar, blood pressure and/or cholesterol are too high despite diet and exercise modification, medications will be prescribed. Medications can be expensive, and prices differ greatly among pharmacies even within the same Zip code.

Use the app and site RetailMeNot Rx Saver to compare medication prices. It’s easy to use to find the cheapest prescription price near your home. You can print a coupon or show it on your phone to your pharmacist, and save up to 80 percent off the price of your meds.

To close, see your doctor yearly. Use this time to discuss health screenings and any lifestyle changes you can make that will lead to better health today and in the future.

Ben Kruger