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Published January 05, 2014, 03:47 PM

With focus on health in the New Year, don’t forget routine screenings and checkups

FARGO – It’s the time of year when treadmills are dusted off and diets are started as many embark on lofty resolutions for a healthier new year.

By: Ryan Johnson, INFORUM

FARGO – It’s the time of year when treadmills are dusted off and diets are started as many embark on lofty resolutions for a healthier new year.

But odds are they’ll soon give up, according to the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology. While 45 percent of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, just 8 percent of people are successful and most fail after only a week.

Instead of being disappointed, adults could instead consider capitalizing on their renewed focus on health by scheduling mammograms, colonoscopies and other routine screenings that are an important part of remaining healthy.

Kristine Martens, a family medicine doctor with Sanford Health in Fargo, said it’s important to also have a primary-care provider and try to get in for an appointment at least once a year to catch any potential health issues.

“That way if someone knows you and at least sees you every year, and if for whatever reason you get sick during the year, you can see someone who already knows your history and can treat your acute problem,” she said.

The exact screenings a person should consider, and at what point in life they’ll want to start getting these tests, will depend on family medical history, underlying health conditions and several other factors, Martens said. To get the best advice, talk with a primary-care provider.

Here are some of the common medical screenings that most people shouldn’t ignore in 2014.

ANNUAL PHYSICALS

A yearly checkup is a great way of keeping track of ailments or catching new problems.

But not everyone will need to see the doctor every year, Martens said.

Otherwise-healthy men can get away with a full examination once or twice in their 20s, she said. They’ll want to make the visits annual by the time they reach 35, when most people need to start checking for high cholesterol.

But women can’t wait as long, Martens said.

Females should have a Pap smear at the age of 21 to test for abnormal cells or cervical cancer, she said. As long as everything’s normal, they can wait two to three years before having another.

Younger women also should have an annual screening for sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and chlamydia starting at age 21 or when they become sexually active, whichever is earlier. Martens said the screening should continue each year until age 25.

MAMMOGRAMS

Most women need a first mammogram at age 40, and then will go back annually. If there’s an abnormal finding, the radiologist may recommend that a patient come back more often for follow-up mammograms, Martens said.

Those with a family history of breast cancer may want to get checked before age 40, she said. But there are no strict guidelines for early mammograms, and Martens said it’s best to discuss any concerns or questions with a doctor.

COLONOSCOPIES

For the vast majority of men and women, a first colonoscopy should happen at age 50. As long as there are no problems, follow-up colonoscopies should be scheduled every 10 years, Martens said.

But those with a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, who had colon cancer need to bump up their first screening.

The general rule of thumb is to have the first colonoscopy 10 years before the age of a relative at diagnosis. For example, if a parent was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 55, their children should get screened starting at age 45.

“As long as everything is normal, it’s just once every 10 years,” Martens said.

CHOLESTEROL CHECKS

People who are overweight, have high blood pressure or suffer from diabetes will want to get their cholesterol checked early and often, Martens said.

Otherwise healthy adults should get a cholesterol check at age 35 for men and 40 for women. These tests aren’t necessarily done each year, she said, and can be included in a routine physical if necessary.

IMMUNIZATIONS

Most adults will only need to worry about keeping up with two immunizations – an annual flu shot, and a tetanus booster once every 10 years.

Martens said protection against pertussis, also known as whooping cough, was recently added to the tetanus booster. Pregnant women now will likely need this shot to ensure their baby gets passive immunity to pertussis.

Pregnant women also should be tested for immunity to rubella, and may need a booster.

Adults traveling to a foreign country may need to get other immunizations, and should consult their doctor or a travel clinic.

PROSTATE SCREENING

Not long ago, men were told to get a blood test to check for prostate cancer starting at age 50.

But Martens said the guidelines are in flux right now, and have been for years, over this “controversial” issue.

The problem is the test has a high rate of false positives and false negatives, she said. Another complication is that prostate cancer is often a very long cancer, she said, meaning many men diagnosed in their 70s would never die from it – they’d succumb to something else as they age.

In these cases, there may be no benefit for treatment or surgical procedures.

“They would’ve lived with it forever,” Martens said. “They end up having to go through the biopsies and the surgeries and all that for really no reason.”

Without firm guidelines right now, she suggested men should talk with their doctor about the possible advantages and disadvantages of this test.

OTHER TESTS

There are several other screenings for adults to consider, Martens said.

Women can get a baseline bone scan after age 65 to check for osteoporosis. They may want to get a scan earlier in life if they’ve suffered from rheumatoid arthritis or been on steroids for a long time.

A new guideline in 2013 recommends that all adults born between 1945 and 1965 should have a one-time screening for hepatitis C.

All men ages 65 to 75 who have ever smoked – even if they no longer smoke –should have a one-time ultrasound to screen for a possible aneurysm of the abdominal aorta, Martens said.

Adults with a lot of moles, or those who frequently tanned or suffered significant sunburns, also should consider a full-body skin exam every couple years to check for skin cancer, she said.

EYE AND DENTAL HEALTH

A healthy adult should have a full eye exam once every one to two years, according to Jed Hillmer, an optometrist at Hillmer Eye Clinic in Fargo.

Parents should bring their children in as early as possible to get a baseline vision prescription and rule out any health issues.

But eye exams should become annual, or even more frequent, for older adults, he said.

“I recommend an annual visit for all of them, just because as we mature, there’s more likelihood that we’ll actually have a health problem that will manifest in the eye,” he said.

Many insurance plans will cover yearly visits, Hillmer said. People with underlying medical conditions, such as glaucoma or diabetes, may be covered by their health insurance for more frequent visits.

The American Dental Association said there is no one-size-fits-all rule for how often people should go to a dentist for checkups and cleanings. Some only have to go once or twice a year, while others may need to be seen more.

But regular visits are important, the ADA said, both to keep the teeth clean and healthy and to help find any oral health problems.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587

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