Screening Tests for Women Archive


On call: Measuring the PSA Is fasting necessary?


Q. I have always had my blood tests taken the first thing in the morning, before I've had breakfast. We've just moved to a new home and I'll have a long commute to the hospital, so I'd like to eat before I start out. My cholesterol has always been great, so my doctor said a light breakfast won't interfere with cholesterol tests. But he didn't know if eating would change my PSA result. What do you think?

A. At last — a PSA question with a simple, un-equivocal answer: Breakfast will not affect your PSA result, nor will lunch or dinner. In June 2005, doctors proved the point by measuring PSA levels three times over the course of a single day in 80 patients with an average age of 62 years. The samples were obtained before breakfast, after breakfast, and after lunch — and there were no changes in the PSA results.

Why you need a bone density scan

Image: Thinkstock

This important test can warn you before you break a bone.

The time to think about your bone health is long before you're laid up with a fracture. Getting a bone density scan can tell you whether your bones are at normal, low, or very low density. The results can help predict your risk of a fracture so you can start taking steps to prevent one.

Ask the doctor: Exercise versus pharmacologic stress testing

Photo: Thinkstock

An exercise stress test done on a treadmill.

Q. I was having occasional chest pains, and my primary care physician recommended a stress test. Because I have bad knees, the cardiologist had me take a stress test using a medication instead of doing exercise. Fortunately, the results were normal. But it made me wonder: is one type better than the other?

4 important blood tests for women-and what the results mean

Image: Thinkstock

Here's why every woman needs to know her numbers.

When your doctor orders blood tests during a routine check-up, the goal is to learn how well your body is working and to diagnose diseases such as diabetes or heart disease that might not have obvious symptoms. A blood test is like a gauge, revealing measures of disease inside your body.

Can women get away with less frequent bone density screenings?

Having a second bone mineral density screening four years after the initial baseline test doesn’t provide additional useful information to help doctors manage osteoporosis.

Ask the doctor: Carotid artery narrowing

Q. During a recent appointment, my cardiologist heard a sound in my neck and sent me for an ultrasound, which showed a narrowing in my carotid artery. The doctor said this means I'm at risk for a stroke. Because I'm already taking all the right medicines, his only recommendation was getting another ultrasound in a year. But if the narrowing gets worse and I have a stroke, won't that be too late?

A. The carotid arteries, found on either side of the neck, are the main supply route for blood to reach the brain. If cholesterol-laden plaque clogs one of these arteries, it sometimes produces a distinctive sound (called a bruit [BROO-ee]) that a doctor can detect with a stethoscope. That finding usually prompts an ultrasound.

Ask the doctor: Yearly stress test








Deepak L. Bhatt, MD, MPH

Q. Every year my doctor used to put me on a treadmill for a stress test. Now he doesn't. Why?

A. Routine exercise stress tests were a common part of many check-ups in middle-aged and older individuals. The thinking was that it would help identify heart artery blockages that were silently lurking and prevent them from progressing to a heart attack.

New tests promise smarter prostate cancer screening and treatment

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Clues from genes and other cancer markers can help men make decisions, but come with important limitations.

The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is widely used to check otherwise healthy men for signs of hidden prostate cancer. But PSA screening remains controversial because it often leads to men being "overdiagnosed" with slow-growing tumors that might never have harmed their health or shortened their lives. Many men seek treatment anyway, potentially exposing themselves to risks such as erectile dysfunction and urinary problems for uncertain benefit.

What you need to ask before getting an imaging test

Know why the test is being done, and how it will guide your treatment.

If your doctor were to recommend that you have a computed tomography (CT) scan or x-ray, would you question whether you really needed it or if it's worth the risks? Most people don't ask—they just assume that the decision to have a medical imaging test is up to their doctor, according to results of a patient survey published in March 2013 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The top 5 tests you probably don't need












Photo: Thinkstock

Whole-body scans may cause more harm than good.

Some health screenings may do more harm than good.

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