They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. At Integrative Health, we believe prevention is the best medicine. That is why we recommend annual health exams as an essential part of your long-term health goals.
Health exams can often make people feel anxious. The fear of getting unexpected news can be a deterrent. That is why we work with each patient individually to create a plan that supports and resonates best for them. Our doctors counsel patients on their options, risk factors, and recommended screenings, while supporting them with resources and explanation of lab results.
Here are some key screening areas and why each one is important.
Blood Work and Physical Exams
Routine blood work and a physical exam should be done annually for both men and women. These tests can help your doctor look for things like hypertension, anemia, infections, cholesterol levels, liver and kidney function, blood sugar levels, and thyroid function. Depending on your individual health and treatment plan, your doctor might also test your vitamin D and hormone levels.
Women’s Health Screenings
There are some annual tests that are specific to women’s health. A Well Woman Exam is recommended yearly and includes a breast exam and pelvic exam to check your uterus and ovaries for problems such as cysts, physical abnormalities, and growths. Both of our female doctors at Integrative Health offer Well Woman Exams.
At the same time as the pelvic exam, we can perform a Pap and HPV test. Many national medical organizations recommend starting Pap exams at age 21 and repeating these tests at least every three years. The Pap test looks for cellular changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer, if not treated. The HPV test looks for the human papillomavirus that can cause these kinds of cellular changes. The HPV test can be done at the same time as the Pap test for convenience and is recommended for all women over 30 years old.
Because breast cancer is the second most common cancer among American women, mammograms are recommended every 1 -2 years for women over the age of 40. Clinical breast exams and self-breast exams are recommended routinely. This is when you check for lumps, changes in size or shape of the breast, or any other changes in the breasts or axilla (armpits). We recommend adding a breast ultrasound to your mammogram, especially if you have dense breasts. Dense breasts make it harder for a mammogram to find cancer. Women with breast implants should continue to have mammograms.
Potential harms of screening mammography include false-negative results, false-positive results, overdiagnosis, overtreatment, and radiation exposure. If you would prefer to not do mammograms, there are other types of screening, including a blood test called dtectDx Breast or breast thermography. Feel free to talk to our doctors for more information.
Men’s Health Screenings
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men in the United States. There are two tests your doctor may order, which are commonly used to screen for prostate cancer.
The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is a blood test for men that can be added to your routine screening blood work. This test is commonly recommended starting at age 50 for average risk. If African American or family history of prostate cancer, it may be best to start at age 40. A high PSA level does not always mean that a man has prostate cancer. It may be elevated with other types of prostate problems or interfering factors with the test itself. It is important to not test PSA directly after a digital rectal exam or within two days of ejaculation, horseback riding, or biking. In addition, high or low blood sugar and certain medications can interfere with the test. Commonly, if the PSA is initially or slightly elevated with no other symptoms or signs of concern, we repeat the PSA in 2-3 months.
A Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) is where the doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel the prostate for asymmetry, lumps, enlargement, or anything else unusual. Either of our male physicians at Integrative Health can perform this screening physical exam.
Healthy bones are essential for aging gracefully and quality of life. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends testing postmenopausal women, all women over the age of 65, all men over the age of 70, and men between 50-69 years old with a high risk factor profile. The first 5 years post-menopause is the time of most bone loss. At Integrative Health, we recommend getting tested early to have a baseline for comparison and to help determine which bone nutrients or hormonal support may be needed. In addition, if you have higher risk factors (history of smoking, previous fractures, use of corticosteroids, amenorrhea or anorexia), it may be a good idea to screen early as well. To screen for bone mineral density, your doctor can order a Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). This test is used to help diagnose osteopenia or osteoporosis. The frequency for this test is commonly every other year if any abnormal results or every 5 years if normal results. Another test we may run is a N-terminal telopeptide (NTX) urine test. This test helps us measure the rate of bone turnover and if we need to make any treatment plan adjustments.
If you are 50 or older, getting a colorectal cancer screening test could save your life. Screenings will help detect both polyps, which can turn into cancer, as well as colorectal cancer at an early stage.
The frequency of routine colonoscopies is every 10 years, unless advised more frequently by your gastroenterologist. If you have a parent that was diagnosed with colon cancer, it is recommended that you start getting screened 10 years prior to their age at diagnosis. So, for example, if your father was diagnosed at age 50, it is recommended that you begin your colonoscopies at age 40.
There are other types of screening tests including a High-Sensitivity FOBT (stool test), flexible sigmoidoscopy, double contrast barium enema, virtual colonoscopy, and stool DNA test.
Other Screening Tests
SKIN: Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. About 171 people in Arizona die of melanoma every year. Since 1975, the melanoma death rate in Arizona has risen by an average of about 1% per year among residents over the age of 50. At Integrative Health, we recommend getting a yearly screening skin exam from a dermatologist.
THYROID: If you have thyroid disease, we recommend a yearly screening thyroid ultrasound. Thyroid cancer is one of the few cancers that has increased in incidence over recent years and occurs in all age groups, from young children through seniors. An ultrasound can check for thyroid size, masses or nodules and follow-up screening can monitor for number, size, and stability of nodules if you have them. Thyroid cancer is usually highly treatable when found early.
SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES: Depending on your risk factors, we also recommend screening tests for sexually transmitted diseases. These risk factors include having unprotected sex, sexual contact with multiple partners, a history of STDs, or abusing alcohol or recreational drugs. If you have symptoms of an STD, it’s important to be tested. However, many infections often do not cause any symptoms. Getting tested can put your mind at ease or get you (and your partner) treated.
At Integrative Health, we believe in prevention. Make sure to schedule an appointment today to talk about screening exams that can make a difference in your life.