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Medical Tests Every Caregiver Should Have

Caregivers tend to take care of everyone else in their lives, at the expense of their own health. Oftentimes caregivers don't maintain doctor visits for themselves; they forget to exercise and to eat nutritiously. They allow themselves to become drained, and it soon leads to caregiver burnout. Or worse, they have a serious – possibly life-threatening – health condition that if caught early, could be cured.

"Routine tests are our best defense for early diagnosis of disease and in turn, higher successful treatment rates if something is detected. Women need to make their health a priority. Testing is an important piece of the health care puzzle – especially since diagnostic test results influence as much as 70 percent of healthcare decision-making," Dr. Agim Beshiri, M.D., Medical Director at Abbott. (abbott.com)

But how do you know what tests you really need, and which you can skip? Dr. Angela DeRosa, president and chief managing officer of DeRosa Medical, P.C. (derosamedical.com) says, "Preventative health screenings are crucial but often confusing for my female patients."

Every woman is different. So discuss with your doctor what tests, in addition to the standard ones, are appropriate tests are for you to undergo, based on family history, lifestyle and other factors. However, both doctors recommend that every woman have the following tests:

Cancer Screenings

Cancer tests are crucial for women. "Breast cancer and cervical cancer are all too common in women and the likelihood of a positive diagnosis increases with age," Beshiri says. According to the National Cancer Institute, the median age for cervical cancer diagnosis is 48 and the median age for breast cancer diagnosis is 58, Beshiri says. He recommends that women get a Pap smear every one to three years until age 65. (Women older than 65 who have had normal Pap smears and women who have had a total hysterectomy for a reason other than cancer don't need a Pap smear.)

Additionally, Dr. DeRosa recommends that starting at age 40, mammograms need to be performed every other year and annually after age 50.

Dr. DeRosa also suggests a colonoscopy be performed at age 50 to screen for colon cancer. After a baseline is established, follow up tests should be done every 5 to 10 years. Colorectal cancer is the third most-common type of cancer for women and men—and 9 out of 10 people with colorectal cancer are over 50, according to the American Cancer Society. "Regular screening can often detect colorectal cancer early, so treatment can begin sooner," Dr. Beshiri says.

Skin cancer screenings must be conducted every year no matter what your age, says DeRosa. The American Cancer Society anticipates Arizona will have 1,650 new cases of melanoma in 2012.

Osteoporosis

Because women have less bone tissue and lose bone density during menopause, they have a much greater risk of developing osteoporosis than men, Beshiri says. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates osteoporosis is a threat for 55 percent of people over 50 – and 80 percent of those affected are women. Women should have a screening test at 65 to make sure their bones are strong, as should high-risk women younger than 65.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is the number one killer of women throughout the world, six-times more likely to cause death than breast cancer. Based on these statistics, women over the age of 50 should have an electrocardiogram (EKG) yearly, DeRosa explains.

General wellness

Depending on your individual health factors and family history, talk with your doctor about being screened for diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Risk of these health issues are more likely to increase with age and can lead to additional health problems if not caught early.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

STDs can continue to be a concern for sexually active women. Sexually active women of all ages should be screened annually for STDs, including HIV. In addition the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently announced a new recommendation that all baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) should be screened for hepatitis C to help avert major increases in liver disease and potentially death, Beshiri says.

Dr. Beshiri's health advice to caregivers is, "Talk to your doctor about any changes that have occurred with your health and what tests you should have and why. You know your body better than anyone else. This information helps guide your doctor on what to look for and testing needed."

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