Screening Tests for Women Archive


Other colon cancer tests may be good alternatives to repeat colonoscopy

There's more than one effective way to screen for colon cancer, according to researchers at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. After a negative colonoscopy at age 50, getting rescreened annually with a less invasive fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test, or having a computed tomographic colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every five years is about as accurate as having another colonoscopy every 10 years, but is less expensive and less likely to cause complications.

Screening by any method significantly reduces the risk of colon cancer compared with not screening, found the Annals of Internal Medicine study, which used a simulation model to identify differences in colon cancer detection among the various testing methods. Colonoscopy every 10 years leads to the fewest colorectal cancer cases and deaths, but it also has the highest complication rate and is the costliest testing method. Although an accompanying editorial cautions that the simulation models used in this study can be "imprecise," the findings reinforce the idea that any colon cancer test is better than no test. Current guidelines recommend that women ages 50 to 75 get a colonoscopy every 10 years; a flexible sigmoidoscopy, double-contrast barium enema, or CT colonography every five years; or a fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test every year. Talk with your doctor about which testing method is most appropriate for you.

Carotid ultrasound to prevent stroke

Q. I often receive offers in the mail to perform an ultrasound of my carotid arteries. Should I sign up for a carotid ultrasound?

A. You probably don't need this test unless you are experiencing certain warning signs. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and the major risk factors for stroke are age, high blood pressure, and cigarette smoking. Narrowing of the carotid arteries could cause a clot that blocks blood flow to the brain (ischemic stroke).

Should you be screened for a hearing problem?

When to get tested so you don't miss out on the sounds around you.

"What?" How often do you have to ask this one-word question during conversations? If the answer is often, you could have a hearing problem.

Your PSA test result: What's next?

If the test result hints at cancer, your doctor will need to rule out noncancerous causes and may perform additional tests.

When you take a test for a serious medical condition, most of all you want certainty: Do you have the disease, or do you not? But the only thing that you can rely on about PSA testing for prostate cancer is that the results will be uncertain.

Making smart screening decisions: Part 4: Commercial screening tests

Does screening for serious health conditions at your local gym or mall make sense?

While you were working out at the gym, walking through the mall, or visiting your church, you might have seen a sign for health screenings—an offer to quickly and easily test you for conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, and osteoporosis. Companies like Life Line Screening and HealthFair offer these tests, but are they worth the cost? Dr. Celeste Robb-Nicholson, Harvard Women's Health Watch editor in chief, explains why you need to be wary about commercial screening tests.

No need for routine ovarian cancer screening

Although ovarian cancer doesn't get as much media attention as breast cancer, it's the deadlier of the two diseases, causing more deaths than any other reproductive cancer in women.

Ovarian cancer is easiest to treat when it's caught early, but health organizations generally don't recommend routine screening for women who aren't at high risk.

Making smart screening decisions: Part 3: Cardiac screening tests

Learn which heart screening tests you need, and which ones aren't worth the cost.

With about five times as many women dying from heart attacks as from breast cancer, cardiac screening should feature prominently on our list of health concerns. Even so, we don't necessarily need to have every cardiac screening test that's available to us. Dr. Loryn Feinberg, director of the Women's Cardiovascular Program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, explains which tests we need—and which ones could expose us to unnecessary risks.

20-second CT scan cuts lung cancer deaths, but is it right for you?

High-risk current and former smokers may benefit. Before having your scan, carefully consider the pros and cons.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. More than 160,000 people will die from it in 2012, more than all deaths from cancer of the colon, prostate, and breast.

Dilated eye exams are critical

Viewing the back of the eye helps catch problems earlier.

Reading an eye chart every few years isn't enough to maintain eye health and prevent complications down the road. Earlier this year, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) came out with a statement urging everyone to have regular dilated eye exams that allow physicians to see clearly into the back of the eye. "It's critical to have dilated exams," says Dr. Jeffrey Heier, director of the retina service at Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston and clinical instructor in ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. "Once problems occur, vision loss can be irreversible. Catching problems early can help preserve vision."

Should you skip your PSA test?

The science is uncertain for now, so arm yourself with deep knowledge of the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening.

In May 2012, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued its final report concerning screening for prostate cancer using the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. After weighing the evidence, the expert panel concluded that PSA screening for prostate cancer should not be offered routinely to men—typically as part of a regular physical exam. Screening means testing a seemingly healthy person for signs of a hidden disease, like prostate cancer.

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