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Prevention vital to long-term health

Published 10:06pm Friday, February 7, 2014

By Dr. Lisa Ford

Prevention is vital to long-term good health. As a physician, I use preventive screening to catch and address many issues early, ideally before they become larger problems for my patients. It is important to remember every person’s health history is unique, and I make sure to take my patients’ individual risk factors into account when discussing specific tests with them.

The most common cancer screening tests are for cervical, breast and colon cancer. For women, pap smears can detect pre-cancerous changes in the cervix. While all women should begin having pap smears at age 21, new research indicates the test is no longer an annual requirement. A pap smear can safely be performed every three to five years, unless you have an abnormal result.

Mammograms are an important screening tool in the fight against breast cancer, but recommendations on the test vary widely, such as the age at which to start (40 or 50) and how often to repeat the test (every one or two years). Your doctor will determine the appropriate age for you to have your first and subsequent mammograms based on your personal risk for breast cancer.

Colorectal screening (colonoscopy) is a true lifesaver and should be performed starting at age 50. As with all types of cancer screening, you and your doctor should discuss starting earlier if you have a family history of colon cancer. A colonoscopy is a painless procedure that most people don’t even remember, and it allows your doctor to remove pre-cancerous lesions be-fore they have a chance to develop into cancer.

Adults don’t often consider the need for vaccines, but immunizations are valuable tools that can save lives. All adults should have an updated TDaP, which stands for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (also known as whooping cough). This vaccine is particularly important because pertussis causes a contagious respiratory illness in adults that can be deadly if passed on to infants. Children are not fully vaccinated against pertussis until they are seven months old, so adults must maintain their immunities to avoid exposing small children to the virus.

Shingles is a very painful condition that occurs when the chicken pox virus becomes reactivated due to stress, illness or age. Starting at age 60, all adults should have the shingles vaccine, which decreases the risk of developing shingles by 50 percent. Other important vaccines for adults include the pneumonia vaccine and the flu shot.

Daily, year-round use of sunscreen is a preventive measure that everyone should take. Excessive sun exposure — even while gardening or out walking — can increase your risk for skin cancer. Always follow up with your physician if you notice any unusual spots on your skin, and be sure to have a family member check your back on a regular basis, since that’s the one area we can’t check for ourselves!

Lisa Ford, M.D., is a board-certified family practitioner. She earned her medical degree from Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine and completed her residency in family medicine at the University of California at Irvine. She currently practices at Harbour View Family Practice, a Bon Secours Medical Group primary care center in Suffolk. For more information about Dr. Ford or Bon Secours Medical Group, visit www.goodhelp-docs.com.

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