(BPT) - You go in for your annual visit and it goes something like this: You get weighed and measured and prodded. You see your doctor and talk about your health, maybe get a prescription refill, and most likely a referral for a screening or lab test. You walk out with the best of intentions, but you never get that test done. Sound familiar?
Many of us don't love the idea of going in for a colonoscopy or mammogram, and even the idea of a needle stick might make some of us jittery. But when it comes to cancer screenings, those tests can mean the difference between a treatable - even curable - cancer, and one that's far tougher to beat.
(For details, visit GetScreenedNow.org.)
In recent years, there's been a trend towards evidence-based medicine - looking at the evidence and deciding what works and what doesn't. The good news is that the medical evidence sometimes points to fewer tests. Here are some of the more significant changes you might notice at your next doctor visit, plus tips on how to make screenings easier on yourself.
What's new for women
If you're still getting annual mammograms, you might be able to have them less often. According to the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), women at average risk of breast cancer need screening only every two years from ages 50 to 74. Everyone's situation is different, so talk to your doctor and together decide what's right for you.
Likewise, most women don't need once-a-year Pap tests. According to a 2012 change in guidelines, women ages 21 to 65 at average risk need this cervical cancer screening just once every three years. If you're 30 to 65, you can get a DNA test as well as a Pap, which lets you go five years between tests (if your doctor agrees). That said, you'll still want to go in for an annual wellness visit.
What's different for men
Not as much to report here, guys, but if your doctor is still ordering a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test during your annual exam, you might want to talk about it. In 2012, the USPSTF recommended against routine PSA tests as a way to screen for prostate cancer. A high PSA level doesn't necessarily signal cancer, but could lead to unneeded treatments. While PSA test rates have been going down, a recent study found that around 40 percent of men over age 60 were still getting them.
The latest on colon screenings
If you're between 50 and 75, you probably know that you need regular colon cancer screenings. You have a growing number of options now, and they all generally involve a tradeoff between thoroughness and the length of time between screenings. In particular, more insurance companies have started to cover virtual colonoscopies (Medicare is a notable exception).
Unlike traditional colonoscopies that use a camera to look inside your colon, a virtual colonoscopy is basically a CT scan (these scans use a series of X-rays to create sharp images). Normal results on an old-style colonoscopy can often get you off the hook for 10 years; the virtual version needs to be repeated every five years.
There are also several simple lab tests that involve collecting a little stool at home and mailing it in to the lab. The newer FIT tests look at immune markers and are more sensitive than older ones. Depending on the test, these need to be done every one to three years.
How to get over your reluctance
If you're not a fan of getting tested, you're not alone. Millions of Americans aren't getting essential tests, and cancer screening rates are lowest among U.S. Latinos and Asians.
If cost is an issue, you might be happy to know that health plans under the Affordable Care Act must cover most preventive care at no cost to you (no co-pays, deductibles or coinsurance). If you have a plan that predates the 2010 law, your coverage may be different.
Here are a few simple ways you can make screenings easier for yourself
* Ahead of your annual exam, check out which exams and preventive care are recommended for you by visiting GetScreenedNow.org, a collaboration between Stand Up To Cancer and Rally Health.
* Schedule your screenings and lab tests before you leave your primary care doctor's office.
* When picking a day and time, think of how you might feel. Depending on the test, pick time of day that works best for you.
* On the day of your appointment, take someone along (for some tests you'll be sedated so you'll definitely need a driver).
* Make sure you're as comfortable as possible. If you tend to get cold, bring a wrap or take socks.
* Before you leave, ask when you can expect your results so you're not conjuring up worst-case scenarios while you wait to hear back.
* Afterward, treat yourself to your favorite little indulgence - you've earned it. Go to a movie, get a pedicure, or have a piece of pie.
Facing surgery can be a frightening, overwhelming experience. However there are things you can do prior to a procedure, such as doing research, selecting the right surgical team, asking questions, choosing a well-disinfected hospital or surgery center, selecting your surgery time and taking care of home obligations, that can go a long way toward easing your mind and avoiding post-surgery complications.
Preparing for a Safe, Successful Surgery
(Family Features) Facing surgery can be a frightening, overwhelming experience. Thousands of surgeries are performed every day and many result in the patient contracting a surgical site infection (SSI). According to the CDC, SSIs are the most common healthcare-associated infection (HAI), accounting for 31 percent of all HAIs among hospitalized patients. However there are things you can do prior to a procedure that can go a long way toward easing your mind and avoiding post-surgery complications.
Do Your Research. Learn about the procedure you will be having, including any short- or long-term side effects. Find out what the professionals recommend for the recovery process. Make sure you understand what your medical insurance covers and what your out-of-pocket responsibility will be.
Select the Right Team. Choose an experienced surgeon that specializes in the procedure you need. Do your homework on potential candidates, including learning their qualifications, specialties and amount of similar procedures performed. Pick a surgical team that you communicate well with, respects you and makes you feel at ease. Websites such as Yelp and HealthGrades can provide patient feedback on a surgeon’s performance.
Ask Questions. Since there are often several ways to perform a procedure, ask your doctor to explain the surgery. Discuss any risks, benefits and/or alternatives to the preferred method. Sometimes physicians will provide a reference patient who can tell you about their experience with the same procedure.
Contact the facility and ask about how they clean the operating rooms (ORs) and recovery areas – you want to go to the cleanest and most disinfected surgery center in your area. Just because an OR looks clean does not mean that dangerous microscopic superbugs aren’t lurking on surfaces in the room. Some hospitals use a Xenex LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robot, for example, that pulses xenon ultraviolet (UV) light to quickly destroy deadly germs and bacteria that can cause infections. Trinity Medical Center in Alabama reported a 100 percent decrease in joint (knee and hip) infections after it began using the robot to disinfect its ORs. Another hospital, Lowell General Hospital in Massachusetts, recently reported a 46 percent decrease in SSIs after utilizing a Xenex disinfection robot.
Select Your Surgery Time. Requesting a day early in the week, but not on Monday, and a time early in the day can decrease your odds of being exposed to germs and bacteria. ORs are deep cleaned each night, with quick cleans between each surgery. Since there are few surgeries on weekends, there may not be a cleaning crew available on Sunday night. Additionally, according to a UK study, the odds of death within 30 days after surgery were significantly higher the later in the week a surgery takes place.
Take Care of Home Responsibilities. Prior to surgery, get your home in order by cleaning, paying bills and running errands. Arrange for transportation to and from the hospital if anesthesia will be used.
Many factors influence the risk of getting an SSI, but patients have some control. To learn more about hospital acquired infections and how they can be prevented, visit Xenex.com/StopHAIs.
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