Time to Book Doctor’s Appointments

Time to Book Doctor’s Appointments

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):  Half of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID 19.  Now is the time to make health care appointments delayed during the pandemic.  

An analysis by the Epic Health Research Network (EHRN), an electronic medical records system, showed that screening appointments for cancers of the cervix, colon and breast were down between 86 and 94% in March, compared with average volumes in the three years before the first COVID-19.  A Cleveland Clinic survey found that 65% of heart disease patients have put off health screenings or checkups.  

Doctors worry that delays in screening could result in patients being diagnosed with more advanced, harder-to-treat health problems down the road. The National Cancer Institute predicts 10,000 excess deaths from breast and colorectal cancers alone over the next decade in the U.S. Underserved communities will be hit particularly hard. 

It is time to get doctor’s appointments back on track.

Colonoscopy- Screenings should begin at age 45 not 50 and continue every 10 years thereafter if the results are normal.  Those at higher-than-normal risk, should have the procedure every three to five years. People who are in good health should continue regular colorectal cancer screening through the age of 75. For people age 76 through 85, the decision to be screened should be based on a person’s preferences, life expectancy, overall health, and prior screening history. Screening is not recommended for people over 85. Though colon cancer is the most preventable cancer (caught early, the five-year survival rate is about 90%), it is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. About 66% of all adults over the age of 50 are up to date on colorectal screening.   

Mammograms- Many doctors recommend that women who are not at higher-than-average risk have annual screening mammograms beginning at age 40. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends annual mammograms for women age 45 to 54, with women age 55 and older continuing annual mammograms or switching to a mammogram every two years.    

Let your mammography technologist know if you have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine.  In some women, breast cancer appears as swollen lymph nodes under one arm. Some patients have reported developing swollen lymph nodes after a COVID-19 vaccination. This finding could be mistaken for a potential breast cancer diagnosis. 

Eighty percent of all breast cancers occurs in women 45 and older. In women age 40 to 50, there is a 1 in 68 risk of developing breast cancer. From age 50 to 60, that risk increases to 1 in 42. In the age group 60 to 70, the risk is 1 in 28.

Dental Exam- The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends getting a professional cleaning every six months to do away with cavity-causing plaque and tartar buildup that you will not be able to get rid of with brushing alone.

Tooth decay can be stopped in its tracks (or even reversed) if detected early enough. If not caught in time, a cavity will eventually work its way through the dentin layer of your tooth, just below the enamel.

As people age, salivary glands become less active, which can lead to dry mouth, and make patients more susceptible to decay. Certain medications that older adults may be taking can also cause lead to dry mouth. There has been a rise in stress-related oral health conditions since the COVID-19 pandemic began.  Dentists reported increases in bruxism (tooth grinding) and 53% in chipped and cracked teeth. 

Pap Smear- The ACS recommends women age 20 to 65 get a Pap test every three years.  Or a human papillomavirus (HPV) test (or combination of a Pap and HPV test) every five years, if both tests come back negative the first time you take them.

Although your risk of cervical cancer decreases with age, your need for routine Pap tests does not necessarily stop with menopause. One in 125 women will get cervical cancer and more than 20% of cases are found in women over 65. However, these cancers rarely occur in women who are vigilant about getting tested.

Skin Cancer Screening- The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends yearly professional skin exams, along with monthly skin self-examinations. The greater your risk of cancer the more important regular skin checks are. Older adults are particularly vulnerable since a lifetime of sun exposure can significantly up your odds.  Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., affecting 1 in 5 Americans by age 70. 

Cholesterol test- The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults 20 or older have their cholesterol checked every four to six years, provided their risk remains low. People with cardiovascular disease may need their cholesterol assessed more often.    

At least 48% of U.S. adults have some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the AHA, and heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women.  In-person testing is still important. Your doctor will want to take your age, gender, family history, and risk factors (such as smoking and diabetes) into consideration when determining possible treatments. 

Eye Exam- The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends that adults get a complete eye exam at age 40, when changes in vision usually start to appear. Those who have undergone cataract surgery need regular checkups to monitor the health of your eyes. The American Diabetes Association recommends that adults with diabetes have a dilated eye exam every year, unless instructed otherwise. Also, if you wear eyeglasses or contact lenses, you should visit your eye doctor for a checkup everyone to two years to make sure your vision has not changed before purchasing a new pair. Those 65 and older should schedule an exam every year or two.

According to the CDC, the leading causes of blindness and low vision in the U.S. are age-related eye diseases, such as cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. It is important to diagnose them early when they are treatable or, in some cases, curable. 

Hearing Test- Adults over the age of 50 should get their hearing checked every three years, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Those who wear hearing aids may want to be tested more often since adjustments to the device may be necessary over time.

According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), approximately 1 in 3 people age 65 to 74 have hearing loss.  But presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) sneaks up gradually, which means many may not realize there is a problem.

Research show that even mild hearing loss can increase your risk of taking a tumble by three times, with the risk increasing by 140% for every additional 10 decibels of hearing loss. Balance requires brain power, and those with hearing loss use more of that gray matter to hear, which means there are fewer mental resources left to help you stay upright. Hearing issues can wreak havoc on spatial awareness

For additional details, read AARP article “8 medical Checkups You May Regret Putting Off Any Longer”.

Barbara Stepko, AARP, May 28, 2021