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Remember that old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? Getting checked early can help you stop diseases like cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis in the very beginning, when they’re easier to treat. Screening tests can spot illnesses even before you have symptoms. Which screening tests you need depends on your age, family history, your own health history, and other risk factors.
The earlier you find breast cancer, the better your chance of a cure. Small breast-cancers are less likely to spread to lymph nodes and vital organs like the lungs and brain. If you’re in your 20s or 30s, your health care provider should perform a breast exam as part of your regular check-up every one to three years. You may need more frequent screenings if you have any extra risk factors.
Screening With Mammography
Mammograms are low-dose X-rays that can often find a lump before you ever feel it, though normal results don’t completely rule out cancer. While you’re in your 40s, you should have a mammogram every year. Then between ages 50 and 74, switch to every other year. Of course, your doctor may recommend more frequent screenings if you’re at higher risk.
With regular Pap smears, cervical cancer (pictured) is easy to prevent. The cervix is a narrow passageway between the uterus (where a baby grows) and the vagina (the birth canal). Pap smears find abnormal cells on the cervix, which can be removed before they ever turn into cancer. The main cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV), a type of STD.
Screening for Cervical Cancer
During a Pap smear, your doctor scrapes some cells off your cervix and sends them to a lab for analysis. You should get your first Pap smear by age 21, and every 3 years after that. If you’re 30 or older, you can get co-testing with HPV tests at least every 5 years. If you’re sexually active and at risk, you’ll need vaginal testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea every year.
Vaccines for Cervical Cancer
Two vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, can protect women under 26 from several strains of HPV. The vaccines don’t protect against all the cancer-causing strains of HPV, however. So routine Pap smears are still important. What’s more, not all cervical cancers start with HPV.
Osteoporosis and Fractured Bones
Osteoporosis is a state when a person’s bones are weak and fragile. After menopause, women start to lose more bone mass, but men get osteoporosis, too. The first symptom is often a painful break after even a minor fall, blow, or sudden twist. In Americans age 50 and over, the disease contributes to about half the breaks in women and 1 in 4 among men. Fortunately, you can prevent and treat osteoporosis.
There are several kinds of skin cancer, and early treatment can be effective for them all. The most dangerous is melanoma (shown here), which affects the cells that produce a person’s skin coloring. Sometimes people have an inherited risk for this type of cancer, which may increase with overexposure to the sun. Basal cell and squamous cell are common non-melanoma skin cancers.