The easiest New Year’s health resolution, ever
Posted on 3 January 2019
Yes, you should lose weight, give up smoking and hit the gym, but committing to annual check-ups should be top of the list. A Mediclinic expert explains more.
Proactive measures help you and your doctor identify potential health risks early, making it easier to avoid and treat chronic illness before it becomes too serious. These are some of the tests and scans you should have, regularly.
Dr Annalien Greeff, a GP at Mediclinic Hermanus, says women should have their first annual pap smear as soon as they become sexually active. “Cervical cancer is generally slower to develop so early detection is helpful for effective treatment,” she says. To test for human papillomavirus (HPV) and cancer, your GP or gynaecologist will take a scrape of cells from the cervix and send them away to test for irregularities.
This test uses radiology to scan the breast for irregular tissue and is effective at detecting early signs of cancer. Mammogram results are compared to those from previous years to note any changes. Dr Greeff recommends that women with a family history of breast cancer start screenings at age 30.
All men should go for annual prostate cancer checks from the age of 50, while those with a family history of the disease should consider starting yearly screening from 40. These days, a simple finger prick blood test for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) can be used to screen for prostate cancer effectively. This helps to detect the disease early, when treatment is most effective.
Visit your GP or dermatologist annually for a ‘mole patrol’ to check for the beginnings of skin cancer or skin changes caused by sun exposure. South Africa has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Generally, skin cancer is one of the easiest forms of the disease to treat if caught early.
Blood pressure and blood tests
Hypertension, or chronically high blood pressure, is a primary precursor to heart disease. Dr Greeff recommends that young and healthy patients have their blood pressure checked once a year, while those on medication or over 40 have it checked every six months. She adds that other important blood tests for patients over 40 include fasting glucose levels, cholesterol, thyroid, liver, kidney and bone marrow function to pick up warning signs of possible illness.
If you’re healthy you should have your first colonoscopy at 50, says Dr Greeff. The schedule of follow-up scopes will be determined by the surgeon, on the basis of those initial results. “However, if you have any complaints such as rectal bleeding or changes in bowel habits, you may need a colonoscopy at a younger age.”