Health Features

Screening for Answers

Busy schedules often get in the way of the routine tests we need, but providers agree that it’s extremely important to be vigilant about them. Finding a problem at an early  stage often helps prevent more serious issues later, so get screened regularly for conditions like breast cancer and heart disease, especially as you age. Your body will thank you for it!

just breathe
The health of your lungs is closely tied to your overall well-being. According to Dr. Omar Almousalli of Frontenac Cardiovascular Center, newer, more precise imaging technology is helping doctors save lives by screening for a wider range of lung cancers, especially  in the early stages.

“New lung scan systems are similar to a CAT scan or calcium scoring test, and they are available in most hospitals and imaging centers,” he says. “With this technology, we can see even small abnormalities that may be precancerous or cancerous. It’s especially important for smokers to get screened; there may be a tumor they don’t know about because it is not  yet causing any symptoms.”

have a (healthy) heart
The American Heart Association recommends the following screenings for cardiovascular health:
Blood pressure:
High blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease and stroke, so have it checked at least once every two years. If it tends to be below 120/80, start having regular blood pressure checks at age 20.
Fasting lipoprotein profile (cholesterol): Starting at age 20, have this screening done every four to six years. It measures your total cholesterol and your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein) levels. After age 40, your doctor may use it to calculate your 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Body weight: Obesity increases risk for heart disease. Your doctor can evaluate body mass index (BMI) to determine if your weight and body composition are within normal ranges.
Blood glucose: High blood sugar increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which can lead to heart disease and stroke if not treated.
Lifestyle and habits: Discuss issues like smoking, diet and exercise with your doctor to come up with necessary modifications for good cardiovascular health.

Almousalli says paying attention to personal risk factors also is key in evaluating your cardiovascular health. “There are five main factors you should think about: family history of heart disease, history of diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking and obesity/sedentary lifestyle,” he explains. “If you have more than one of these, you should be evaluated by a doctor.”

The more risk factors you have, the more aggressive you should be about screening, he says. “For example, if your mom had heart disease in her 50s or your dad had it in his 40s, that’s considered a strong family history,” he notes. “Don’t wait until you have a heart attack or stroke to figure out what your risk factors are.”

Almousalli adds that a relatively new screening called a calcium scoring test can show plaque buildup in arteries around the heart that may lead to cardiovascular disease. “The test creates a scan of the heart to help doctors decide if you need further evaluation, medication or treatment,” he says. An electrocardiogram shows how efficiently your heart is pumping blood through your body.

breast cancer
As with other types of cancer, early detection is key to prevent and treat it. Nearly half of women age 40 and older have dense breast tissue that can make diagnostic screening more difficult. The National Breast Cancer Foundation offers a free patient guide on the subject at

Here is the screening path normally followed to detect breast cancer:

Self-exam: Patients should alert a doctor if any lumps or other abnormalities are felt.
Screening mammogram: The routine imaging test can be used for patients who have no apparent symptoms like a lump, breast pain, nipple discharge or skin thickening.
Diagnostic mammogram: More detailed imaging is performed if a screening mammogram shows a potentially cancerous growth.
Ultrasound: If a growth is suspected, the doctor may order this imaging test, which uses sound waves to create a picture of what’s going on inside the tissue.
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): This sensitive imaging system uses magnetic energy and radio waves to help distinguish between healthy and cancerous tissue.
Biopsy and other lab tests: The doctor may remove a small amount of tissue or fluid and examine it under a microscope to look for cancerous tissue. Hormone receptor tests and HER2/Neu tests can help doctors determine the type of cancer, prognosis and treatment options.

Source: National Breast Cancer Foundation

did you know?
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a good time to remember that the condition can affect both women and men. Women should get a mammogram every year starting at about age 40.

colon care
According to SLUCare gastroenterologist Dr. Jason Taylor,  opinions differ on when adults should start getting a  general screening colonoscopy to look for colorectal cancer. “Medical societies have had different recommendations in the past, but that may  be changing,” he notes. “The usual age for a first routine colonoscopy has been 50, but some experts now are recommending that patients begin at 45.”

Health conditions and risk factors can make it necessary even earlier. Taylor says patients should  talk to a doctor about whether family members have had colorectal cancer and at what age. “If your mother had it at 45, for example, you should have a colonoscopy earlier than that,” he says.

Taylor says a colonoscopy is extra helpful because it’s therapeutic as well as diagnostic. Doctors  can see any abnormalities in the colon and rectum and remove potentially cancerous tissue like polyps at the same time, he explains.

There are other colorectal cancer screening tests for people who aren’t comfortable with a colonoscopy, according to Taylor. These tests can look for hemoglobin in the stool or identify  molecular markers shed by a cancerous lesion. Some companies advertise mail-in home tests to detect colon cancer, but Taylor emphasizes that they are not as thorough as a colonoscopy.  “If you actually have cancer, a home test may be helpful, but if you don’t, it’s best to have a colonoscopy, which can identify small polyps that could become a problem later,” he says.

what is a colonoscopy?
Under anesthesia, a long, flexible tube (colonoscope) is inserted through the rectum, and a tiny video camera at the tip gives doctors a view of any abnormalities in the rectum and large intestine.

Genetic screening technology may help shed light on your predisposition for certain diseases, and some companies are marketing in-home tests for the purpose. AncestryHealth and 23AndMe offer mail-in tests that can serve as a conversation starter with your doctor about healthy lifestyle changes to reduce risk.

Screening for Answers
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Screening for Answers
Busy schedules often get in the way of the routine  tests we need, but providers agree that it’s extremely important  to be vigilant about them. Finding a problem at an early  stage often helps prevent more serious issues later, so get screened regularly for conditions like breast cancer and heart disease, especially as you age.
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