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During This Break in COVID, Time to Catch Up With These Health Screenings

March 07, 2022

Are we back to normal yet? It almost feels like it as COVID-19 pauses, which means you should start paying attention again to your overall health rather than simply trying to avoid contact with the coronavirus. Even if you’re feeling fine and aren’t experiencing any health issues, it’s important to continue visiting your primary care provider for annual exams. “Everyone’s routine health care was disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Cynthia Heller, Physician In Chief at the Hartford HealthCare Medical Group. “It’s more important now, than ever before, to re-establish care with your primary care provider and give them an opportunity to understand your current needs.” Routine health screenings at the yearly visits could provide early detection of unknown problems. Your provider can work with you to develop healthcare goals specifically for you, as well as strategies for achieving them. As your provider gains a greater knowledge of your health, they can offer more personalized care, helping you live a healthier, happier life.

What Screening Do You Need?

Your provider helps you decide the most appropriate screening(s) based on:
  • Your age, health and gender.
  • Risk factors like family history, notably a close relative with cancer, and habits such as smoking.
  • If you’re considering a screening test, talk with your provider about the disease, what the test is like, the risks and benefits and the potential cost.
  • You may also want to ask what further testing and follow-up will be needed if a screening test reveals a possible problem.
Here are some screenings:

Breast Cancer

Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat. A mammogram is a breast X-ray that uncovers tumors too small for you or your doctor to feel. Click here to find out where to get a mammogram.

Cervical Cancer

The Pap (short for Papanicolaou) test finds abnormal cells in the cervix that might turn into cancer. The HPV test looks for the human papillomavirus virus, which can cause these cell changes. Pap tests find cervical cancer early, when the chance of being cured is high. Click here for more information.

Colorectal (Colon) Cancer

Colorectal cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Colonoscopy is the screening test to find precancerous polyps, so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Click here for more information.

Lung Cancer

If you have smoked for a long time, were a heavy smoker and are age 55 to 80, consider lung cancer screening using a low-dose CT scan. Research shows that such screening can reduce the risk of death from lung cancer for people at high risk. Click here for more information.

Prostate Cancer

A prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test measures the level of PSA, a substance made by the prostate. Levels of PSA in the blood can be higher in men with prostate cancer, although it also can be elevated in other conditions affecting the prostate. Your doctor will schedule a PSA test as part of the blood tests for your annual physical.

Skin Cancer

A skin cancer-screening exam is the best way to catch melanoma and other skin cancers early, when they’re easiest to treat. These can be done by your primary care provider, a dermatologist or through self-exam. Click here for more information.

Blood Pressure

The familiar device used to measure blood pressure, wrapped around the upper arm and secured with a plastic fastener, is called a sphygmomanometer. The two results, given in millimeters of mercury (mmHg), are provided with one number on top of another: Systolic blood pressure (top): This is the pressure of your blood against the artery walls as the heart beats. Pay close attention to this number. For people over age 50, it’s considered a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Diastolic blood pressure (bottom): A similar measure taken between beats, with the heart at rest. The results are given as the top number “over” the bottom number, as in “120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic).” Normal blood pressure is 120/80. Your blood pressure will be measured as part of your annual physical exam. Click here for more information.

Cholesterol

Excessive cholesterol that accumulates in your arteries increases your risk of heart disease. Two types of lipoproteins deliver cholesterol to your body: low density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL earned its nickname (“the bad cholesterol") because it can clog your arteries. HDL cholesterol helps prevent heart disease, so higher amounts in your blood is better. That’s why HDL is known as “the good cholesterol.” Desirable total cholesterol level is less than 200 mg/dL. Cholesterol levels are measured as part of the blood tests for your annual physical. Click here for more information.

Diabetes

A blood sugar test will tell you if you have prediabetes or Type 1, Type 2 or gestational diabetes. You doctor will review possible symptoms and potential risk factors before determining if you should be tested. Click here for more information.

Vaccinations

Your age group -- birth through 6 years old, 7-18 and 19 and up -- determines vaccinations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Routine vaccinations for international travel include:
  • COVID-19.
  • Chickenpox (Varicella).
  • Hepatitis A.
  • Hepatitis B.
  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
  • Influenza.
  • Measles, mumps, Rubella.
  • Meningococcal.
  • Pneumococcal.
  • Polio.
  • Rotavirus.
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis.
  • Shingles (Zoster).
Talk to you primary care doctor to find out if your vaccinations are up to date.

Don’t Wait to Schedule

If you’re not feeling well, you don’t need to wait until your annual exam to see your provider. You should schedule an appointment whenever you’re experiencing out-of-the-ordinary pain or discomfort, such as headaches, back pain, stomach pain, or difficulty urinating. You may be experiencing symptoms of a health problem that your provider can identify and treat before it becomes serious. “So many 21st-century diseases are modifiable by good, early preventive care,” says Dr. Heller. “By making an appointment now, you could be averting serious long term health problems in the future.” Hartford HealthCare Medical Group has more than 300 primary care providers across Connecticut. To find the one that’s right for you, and to schedule an appointment, click here or call 877.707.4442.

Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute