The Importance of Adult Preventive Care
By Howard Silcoff, M.D.
There is an overwhelming abundance of evidence to prove that people who get
preventative health care fare better in terms of health. It's been
substantiated in study after study that preventative care helps people live
longer and happier lives.
The easiest way to initiate the habit of preventative care is to make an
appointment with your primary care physician for a complete physical. This
means you will be seeing your doctor when you are well, and when you both have
sufficient time scheduled to discuss your current health and your medical
history, and to conduct a complete physical examination. At the conclusion of
the appointment, the two of you can decide just how often you should make an appointment
for a routine physical and screening examinations.
Timing of well visits varies depending on your age, gender, and overall health.
A basic blueprint for preventative health care includes, but is not limited
to the following recommendations.
Screening for cancer
Among the most common cancers are cancer of the colon, cervix, breast, skin,
and prostate. Screening for colon cancer should typically begin at age 50
years, or at age 40 if there is a family history of the disease. There are a
variety of tests which can be used to check for colon
cancer, from noninvasive (a simple stool test done at home can be taken to the
laboratory for interpretation) to the more invasive colonoscopy.
Women should be checked regularly for cervical cancer, beginning at age 18
or earlier if a woman is sexually active. This screening test is a pap smear
which is taken during a vaginal exam. Women should have pap smears every one to
three years depending on their risk factors.
Regular breast cancer screening should start at age 40 with a mammogram
every one to two years, depending on family history. At age 50, mammograms
should be done annually, along with a physical examination by your doctor. This
is important because mammograms do not detect 100 percent of breast cancer.
Skin cancer is increasingly common and is detected by a thorough screening
that should be conducted once a year. This can be done as part of a routine
There is wide-ranging opinion on screening for prostate cancer: at what age
it should begin and what it should include. You should read up on the topic and
discuss it with your physician at the time of your well visit. Recommendations
range from no testing to yearly PSA blood testing and rectal examinations
beginning at age 50, or earlier if there is a family history of prostate
Adults should consider getting annual flu shots, pneumonia vaccination, and
they should keep their tetanus vaccination current. In addition, adults who
have not had or been immunized for chicken pox may want to be tested. If you
are not immune to chickenpox, talk with your doctor about being vaccinated
because chicken pox can be serious especially when contracted as an adult.
Life style issues and risk factors
Your weight, diet, and level of exercise all have an important impact on
your health. A frank discussion with your doctor about sensible eating and a
rational exercise program can be very helpful. If you smoke, your doctor can
help you quit, which will be one of the single most important steps you can
take to prolong your life.
Your doctor will also make recommendations regarding how often you should
have your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar tested. These tests
indicate risks for heart disease and diabetes, two of the most common chronic,
lethal diseases in this country. Blood pressure should be checked every year.
Cholesterol screening is recommended every five years, beginning at age 30 or
earlier if there is a family history of heart disease. Screening for diabetes,
which is also a risk factor for heart disease, should begin at age 45 or
earlier if you are overweight or have other risk factors for diabetes.
Many adults avoid well visits to their doctors because people are fearful
they won't have control over the tests that are done. However,
if you are not comfortable with a particular test (such as a rectal exam) talk
to your doctor about it. Discuss why the test is recommended, and then
make your own decision whether or not to have it done.
is board certified in family medicine. He is in practice with Dryden Family
Medicine and is a member of the medical staff at Cayuga Medical
Center. He can be reached
at (607) 844-8181.