The best way to prevent serious illness is to see a primary care doctor regularly and get proper screenings and tests.
On Oct. 4, 2018, my doctor’s office called me at my son’s home in Tallahassee. The office had the results of the breast biopsy I’d had done the week before. I begged the nurse to tell me on the phone, though she wanted me to see my doctor on Monday. I made the appointment, but she did tell me the results: stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma.
I’ve had regular mammograms since I was 35 years old. I’ve moved several places and always had my films and records moved to the new imaging site and doctor. I never had any problems with mammograms. At 66, in March 2018, I had a mammogram at Lake Medical Imaging. The radiologist thought he saw something but wasn’t sure. He sent me to the ultrasound tech. She did everything but have me stand on my head and could find nothing. No nodule could be felt.
We decided I would return in six months for another mammogram on the left breast. Though it still couldn’t be felt or seen by ultrasound, the small spot had grown. A needle biopsy was scheduled, and I received the results, thankful I was with family that weekend.
The primary screening test you need depends on your age, sex, family history, and whether you have certain risk factors for certain diseases. Primary screening tests that doctors use include:
- Breast cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Overweight and obesity
- Prostate cancer in men
After seeing my primary care doctor, who was very understanding and helpful with information and encouragement, I went to the oncologist and then he got an appointment with a surgeon. Though neither of them felt the lump, surgery was scheduled for the next week.
I told my children that if the doctor came out and said the breast needed to be removed to let him do it. I didn’t want vanity to stop the treatment of cancer. However, the lumpectomy went fine, and I went home that afternoon.
When I went back to the surgeon for the results of his biopsy, he started the conversation with, “You are one lucky woman. They removed most of the cancer during the biopsy.”
That is why preventive medicine is so important.
As a result of regular mammograms, an irregularity was noticed immediately and handled. I did a week of radiation treatments, two per day, and I will take aromatase or hormone inhibitors for the next five years. I see the oncologist every three months. I am cancer-free and happily visit my doctors frequently.
There are a number of cancers and chronic illnesses that can be found and treated early without leading to further problems, complications, and expensive treatment. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta estimates that preventive care can keep patients from developing chronic conditions that could result in a massive reduction of the multimillions of dollars spent on health care now. It reduces emergency room visits and costs, and the number of deaths could be reduced. The four leading causes of death in America are from totally preventable chronic diseases.
You and your doctor can work together to keep you healthy rather than treat the diseases you might have avoided.
One of the biggest problems in not visiting a physician regularly and getting annual checkups is the silent diseases that often have no obvious symptoms but, if left untreated, can lead to serious physical consequence.
By the numbers
98% of women survive breast cancer when it’s found through regular screening
80% of breast lumps are not cancer
92% of women survive cervical cancer when found early with routine tests
13 clinics in Lake County provide free or sliding-scale treatment
6 clinics in Sumter County provide free or sliding-scale treatment
Bill Lorenze, manager of imaging at Leesburg Regional Medical Center, stresses how important imaging is in preventive care.
“Diagnostic imaging is considered the ‘eyes of medicine.’ Imaging tests are usually able to confirm or deny the diagnosis your health provider suspects,” Bill says. “In my opinion, preventative care is like changing the oil in your car—it may cost you time and money, but it can keep a small problem from becoming a large one.”
Many people think that if you continue to receive good reports from imaging results, there’s a time when you can stop the screenings. However, Bill disagrees.
“Preventive care, such as annual checkups with your primary care provider and OB/GYN, are extremely important.,” he says. “It’s much easier to treat a problem in the early stages of development.”
Another benefit of medical imaging is that while searching for one possible diagnosis, the radiologist may find signs of another problem.
Six statistics regarding preventable health issues
- The greatest preventable cause of death in the U.S. is tobacco use. As of 2018, 15 percent of adults smoke.
- The percentage of U.S. adults who do not do leisure-time physical activity is more than 30 percent.
- More than one-third of U.S. adults and 17 percent of youth are obese.
- More than 102 million U.S. adults have total cholesterol levels of 200 mg/dL or higher and 35 million are at 240 mg/dL or above.
- Nearly 50 percent of adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure.
- In 2015, 30.3 million people had diabetes; however, 7.2 million were undiagnosed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans use preventive health services at approximately half the recommended rate.
“Quite often the radiologist will find what we all an ‘incidental finding.’ These are findings that aren’t directly related to the reason the patient was sent for the test,” Bill says. “For example, a patient may be sent for a CAT scan of the abdomen and pelvis with a diagnosis of right lower quadrant pain. The radiologist will look closely at that area but may also find liver or renal lesions that are currently asymptomatic.”
People tend to think no symptoms mean no problems. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Diseases like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, various cancers and many other diseases often don’t exhibit symptoms until they become very serious.
Beware of how everything can affect your health
Household cleaners, makeup, certain fragrances, metal food cans, detergents, and many other items we use in our homes and on our bodies may contain lead and toxins that may disrupt hormones and potentially cause other health issues like cancer. Learn about the ingredients identified on the labels. If you are not sure about how a particular ingredient may affect your health, talk to your doctor or a competent health-care professional about what products you are using.
Source: Joy Stephenson-Laws
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease. When you have type 2, it means your body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use insulin well, which elevates your blood sugar. This is called insulin resistance. If this isn’t treated over time, high blood sugar begins to damage your body’s organs or nerves.
Again, there are no obvious symptoms, but a simple blood test will tell your doctor if blood glucose or sugar levels are high. It most often hits middle-age adults and, many times, is advanced because there was no treatment when the silent symptoms began.
If you see your doctor regularly or have an annual checkup, the doctor will check your A1C, which measures blood glucose levels, for a three-month period to get a good indicator of daily levels. If your A1C is below 5.7, your blood glucose is normal; up to 6.4 signals prediabetes, and above 6.5 means you have type 2 diabetes. Again, a routine test can prevent this from happening because diabetes often can be treated with diet and exercise in early stages.
Untreated diabetes eventually can lead to kidney damage, diabetic retinopathy, and neuropathy (which can lead to amputation of extremities). There is a direct link between diabetes and heart disease and stroke.
HBP or hypertension
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, occurs when the force of the blood flowing through blood vessels is consistently too high. Normal blood pressure is less than 120 systolic (the upper number) and less than 80 diastolic (the lower number); elevated is 120-129 over less than 80; hypertension is 140 or higher over 90 or higher. A hypertensive crisis occurs when the reading is higher than 180 over 120. Left untreated, HBP can lead to many problems, including heart attack, stroke, coronary artery disease, damage to kidneys, damage to vessels in eyes, and narrowing arteries, and can be fatal.
High blood pressure is highly treatable and the test is painless. You can even check your blood pressure at local pharmacies and grocery stores with pharmacies. Most times, HBP can be treated with oral medication or even with diet and exercise.
High cholesterol causes you to develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels. This can be deadly if left untreated. If the deposits continue to grow, they make blood flow in the veins and arteries difficult. You really don’t develop “symptoms” of high cholesterol. However, you may show symptoms of heart disease, stroke, or atherosclerosis in other blood vessels. You may feel an unexplained fullness, dizziness, unsteady gait, slurred speech, or even pain in your lower legs. By the time you feel these symptoms, your cholesterol is dangerously high.
Total cholesterol is the total amount of cholesterol in your blood. However, that number includes low-density lipoprotein or LDL, which is “bad” cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein or HDL, which is “good” cholesterol. There’s always a chance of high cholesterol because it is a waxy, fat-like substance that actually is in every cell of the body.
A simple blood test will help your doctor determine what to do. Again, some people can treat high cholesterol with a change in diet and regular exercise. Others may need medication, which is highly effective and as simple as swallowing a pill.
Joy Stephenson-Laws is a regular contributor to Healthy Living. She also is founder and executive director of Proactive Health Labs. Her career is devoted to preventing illness and disease.
“One thing that I have learned during my more than 30 years working in and around health care is that the key to preventing disease and to having a healthy life is, without a doubt, education,” Joy says. “In fact, that is the main reason I founded Proactive Health Labs over five years ago—to make sure people have the information and tools they need to get and stay healthy.”
Joy says she believes people genuinely misunderstand what “prevention” really is and what it isn’t.
“Unfortunately, what most people think of as prevention is, in reality, early disease detection. This is simply because the health-care community traditionally has not focused on true prevention but instead on early detection,” Joy says. “A good example of detection over prevention is heart disease, the No. 1 killer in the U.S. To help prevent it, a health-care provider may recommend cholesterol checks over the age of 40; obesity screening and counseling if a patient starts to gain weight; and routine blood pressure screenings for patients over the age of 20 to detect when blood pressure gets too high.”
The problem with detection, as Joy sees it, is waiting for a disease and its initial symptoms to manifest before doing something.
“True prevention, on the other hand, aims to ensure the disease itself never happens. Good examples of this type of prevention are vaccines, quitting smoking, weight reduction and low-dose aspirin therapy,” Joy says.
The metaphor of automobile care also works for Joy. She says humans don’t come with an owner’s manual. There’s no schedule for regular maintenance or knowing when the body needs extra vitamins or supplements or what to expect as the body is used more.
“Most of us rely on our parents (who may not be health educated), personal doctors (whose primary role is treating disease, not education), celebrity doctors on television or Dr. Google to learn as much as we can,” Joy says. “Credible, well-researched, practical and easy-to-understand health education that starts when we’re young and continues through adult lives would ensure that we have at least as much information about taking care of our health as we do about taking care of our cars.”
There are many ways to be proactive in what you do about your health. Your body is the only one you’ll ever have. It’s up to you to keep it healthy and working properly.
Facts about cancer
Many cancers are preventable by reducing risk factors such as using tobacco products, reducing weight if you are obese, being physically active, getting proper nutrition and avoiding exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun. Other preventable diseases include those with vaccines: human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B virus.
Screening is effective in catching cancer early so it is highly treatable. These include regular mammograms to prevent breast cancer; getting a Pap test (and HPV test) for cervical cancer; and using stool-based testing, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy for colon cancer.
About the author
Leigh Neely began her writing career with a weekly newspaper in the Florida panhandle, where she not only did the writing but delivered the papers to the post office and dispensers. She has been writing ever since for a variety of newspapers and magazines from New Jersey to Leesburg. With her writing partner, Jan Powell, Leigh has published two novels as Neely Powell.