“New year, new me,” or so the saying goes. The start of a new year is a metaphorical clean slate and the perfect time to begin a healthier lifestyle. It’s also a great time to be reminded of the monthly and annual health screenings you should be doing. Some screenings are performed by physicians at annual wellness visits, but there are also a few that you can perform yourself on a more regular basis. Both are essential if you are committing to your health through 2020 and beyond.
Doctors from a variety of specialties at Culpeper Medical Center - a Novant Health UVA Health System facility, explain some of these important screenings.
Full-body skin checks are one of the most important preventative screenings you can do on your own. By thoroughly examining your body for new moles, dark spots or suspicious markings every three months, you’re more likely to catch melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers before they have a chance to spread.
“Early diagnosis usually means less invasive treatments, high likelihood of survival and lower chance that the cancer has spread,” explains Shiv R. Khandelwal, MD, medical director of radiation oncology at Culpeper Medical Center.
The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, but also reports a five-year survival rate of 99 percent when nonmelanoma skin cancer is detected and treated early. Despite high survival rates, it is vital to protect your skin from sun exposure and visit a dermatologist annually, in addition to at-home skin checks.
Blood Pressure Tests
High blood pressure (hypertension) puts increased strain on your heart and blood vessels, which over time can put you at greater risk of heart attack or stroke. John Hardy, MD, a cardiologist at UVA Cardiology, recommends having your blood pressure checked by a physician at your annual wellness exam.
“Patients with hypertension may need to have their blood pressure monitored more frequently, and may be prescribed medication to help lower it,” says Dr. Hardy. “It’s important to get a reading at least yearly so your doctor can note any changes.”
Bone Density Exams
Bone mineral density measures the thinness of a person’s bones and their risk of fracturing. Culpeper Medical Center offers screenings –using a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) machine. This helpsstandardize a patient’s bone health to their demographic’ averages and determines the amount of bone density lost between screenings.
According to Pranav Patel, MD, chief of the department of medicine at Culpeper Medical Center post-menopausal women, tall and thin women, people with chronic kidney or parathyroid conditions, patients on long-term medication and smokers should have their bone mineral density read every two years. These are the populations most prone to osteopenia (thin bones) or osteoporosis (brittle bones), putting them at higher risk of fracture or traumatic fracture.
Although breast cancer can affect men, more than 99 percent of cases are in women. In addition to conducting monthly self-exams, all women should receive annual mammograms beginning at age 40.
“Mammograms are very important, especially as women get older,” says Jonathan Nguyen, MD, a breast-imaging specialist with UVA radiology group. “We have the technology to detect abnormalities earlier than ever before, often before a woman would notice anything unusual in a self-exam. Through early detection, we can catch cancerous tissue and treat it before it spreads to another part of the body, which significantly improves outcomes and reduces mortality rates from breast cancer.”
Culpeper Medical Center offers screening and diagnostic mammograms, as well as 3D mammography. This new mammography technology uses an X-ray arm to capture images of breast tissue one millimeter at a time and allows doctors to see fine details more clearly. All mammograms done at Culpeper Medical Center are read by UVA fellowship-trained breast radiologists, who can detect small cancers early in their progression.
There is also a cancer screening specific to men: the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which measures how much protein is produced by the prostate and can help determine risk of prostate cancer. Current guidelines from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force suggest that men ages 50-69 discuss periodic PSA screenings with their doctors.
Ali Mahjoub, MD, a medical oncologist with UVA Cancer Care, explains, “recommendations for screening come on a case-by-case basis between a doctor and the patient and are dependent on risk factors. These factors include family history, race and age. Age is the number one factor, and we typically recommend routine screenings beginning at age 50. Diagnosis in men under 40 are very rare but we can encourage men to be screened at a younger age if they are in a higher-risk category.”
These are just a handful of health screenings and services offered by the providers at Culpeper Medical Center. Each is recommended for different reasons and may be more applicable to certain genders, age groups and ethnicities. Your primary care provider may recommend additional screenings for you, depending on your individual risk factors for certain conditions.
For more information about the services offered at Culpeper Medical Center, a Novant Health UVA Health System facility, please visit novanthealthuva.org/locations/medical-centers--emergency-rooms/Culpeper-medical-center.