The global pandemic put many parts of our lives on hold. While our healthcare system focuses on COVID-19, things like routine health screenings have been delayed for many people.
Now that some restrictions are being lifted, we can look toward resuming our normal lives. Memorial Hermann–affiliated physicians remind us that early detection is important, and taking time for routine health screenings should be a priority.
Schedule Your Mammogram
Screening mammograms are important tools for detecting breast cancer. Imaging centers are performing exams and taking precautions to make sure that each patient is safe. You may have delayed your appointment due to the pandemic, and if you are in a high-risk group for COVID-19 you may choose to delay a little longer, but it’s not too late to get back on a regular schedule.
“If you have been having regular, annual screening mammograms, putting it off three or four months is usually not a big deal,” says Meghan Hunter, DO, a family medicine physician with Memorial Hermann Medical Group. “I would not recommend postponing a screening mammogram for high-risk patients, or postponing diagnostic mammograms or other breast studies that have been ordered to follow up on abnormal results.”
A Simple Test for Diabetes
Dr. Hunter says everyone over age 45 should be screened for diabetes. If you are overweight and have other risk factors, your healthcare provider may recommend beginning sooner. A routine blood test checks your fasting glucose and hemoglobin A1C levels, and if they are above normal, you should work with your healthcare provider on a management plan.
Maintaining a Healthy BMI
Dr. Hunter reminds patients that “being underweight or overweight can put you at risk for serious health conditions.”
Your body mass index (BMI) is a helpful calculation in determining if your weight is in the healthy range. If your BMI is outside the ideal range, you may be more likely to develop diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, obstructive sleep apnea or certain cancers.
Colonoscopy: Screening for Colon Cancer
Gastroenterologist Sameer Siddique, MD, recommends staying current on colonoscopy screenings to prevent complications down the road. “We need to focus on long-term health goals, and screening is an important part of that,” he says.
“At some point, everyone needs to begin routine screening for colon cancer,” Dr. Siddique says. “Depending on your ethnicity and family history, screening should begin around age 45 to 50.”
If you have symptoms such as blood in your stool, a recent change in bowel habits or unexplained weight loss, he recommends seeing your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Caring for Your Heart
Monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol are essential to maintaining good heart health, according to interventional cardiologist William Brown, MD. “High blood pressure is considered the silent killer, because it can cause a number of problems, even if you don’t show symptoms,” he says. “It puts you at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.”
High cholesterol is also a risk factor for vascular disease. Dr. Brown says “as early as age 25, everybody should have their cholesterol checked. Earlier if you have a family history.”
In addition to routine screenings, Dr. Brown advises that if you have cardiac symptoms such as progressive chest pain or shortness of breath, you should see your healthcare provider right away.
Early Detection for Prostate Cancer
Prostate screening is an important part of men’s health. “Prostate cancer often goes undiscovered until it becomes advanced,” says urologist Samit Soni, MD. “Routine blood testing is usually the earliest method for detection.”
A routine blood test measures the amount of prostate specific antigen (PSA) in the blood. Higher levels of PSA may indicate prostate cancer or other conditions, such as an enlarged prostate. As with many chronic conditions, the earlier it is identified, the more options there are for treatment.
“We don’t want to let our overall health or life expectancy be significantly altered because we’ve forgotten about routine screenings,” Dr. Soni says.
If you delayed health screenings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to remember healthcare providers are taking steps to ensure your safety. One of the biggest lessons we are learning, as the pandemic unfolds, is that making an effort to stay healthy is one of the most important things we can do.
Megan Hunter, DO, Family Medicine Physician, Memorial Hermann Medical Group
Sameer Siddique, MD, Gastroenterologist
William Brown, MD, Interventional Cardiologist, Memorial Hermann Medical Group
Samit Soni, MD, Urologist, Memorial Hermann Medical Group
The information in this article was accurate as of May 25, 2020.