If we avoid health screenings for breast cancer, colon cancer, and other chronic diseases, we do so at our own risk.
Why are health screenings important?
Routine health screenings can save your life. This may sound like an overstatement, but it is unquestionably true!
Regular checkups allow your primary healthcare provider to review your medical history, evaluate your current health condition, and order critical screenings. If these screenings detect a problem, your provider can diagnose and address health conditions, possibly even before they become known to you.
For example, mammograms and pap smears can detect tissue changes and help determine if these changes need further intervention. Colorectal screenings can assist with diagnosing and treating a multitude of conditions in the lower colon.
How do we know there is a problem?
In 2022, the Research Department of Trilliant Health, a data analytics company in Brentwood, Tennessee, published an ongoing study on primary healthcare visits and routine health screenings during the Covid pandemic.
Department chair Allison Oakes, Ph.D., led the project, and it compared the number of health screenings completed from January 2017 to December 2021.
According to the study, during the first year of the pandemic (2020), the average number of breast cancer screenings completed in the U.S. fell by 40%. There was also a 45% drop in colorectal cancer screenings and a 36% reduction in cervical cancer screenings during the same period.
Why do we care about screenings?
The study revealed that diagnoses of breast, colorectal, and cervical cancers also dropped by roughly 6%-7% between 2019 and 2020, and continued to decline by an additional 5%-6% between 2020 and 2021.
Dr. Oakes explained that the decrease in diagnoses "does not mean these cancers are suddenly less common; rather, it means there are people with cancer who are going to be diagnosed at a later, more severe stage of the disease."
What about other health screenings and the use of primary care?
Dr. Oakes also commented on the use of healthcare by Americans for non-COVID, non-mental-health issues.
The study revealed that primary care visits in the first quarter of 2022 were 6.2% lower than in the first quarter of 2019. Dr. Oakes said, "Not only are people missing their annual cancer screenings, but they are using less primary care."
Why do primary care visits matter?
Primary care visits are the first step in effective healthcare. When you fail to complete an annual check-up or follow-up visit with your healthcare provider, you also miss out on completing other important screenings. These screenings typically include the following:
- Blood pressure checks
- Cholesterol tests
- Cognitive screenings
- Oral health exams
- Depression screenings
- Diabetes screenings
- Eye exams
- Skin exams
Each health screening listed above can play a crucial role in evaluating your overall health. Failing to have routine and necessary exams and screenings reduces your chances for diagnosis and early treatment of diseases.
When should I get routine health screenings?
Your healthcare provider can help you determine the frequency and necessity of your health screenings. They will consider your age, health history, current health condition, and personal concerns in recommending additional screenings.
General recommendations for routine and additional health screenings change over time for a variety of reasons. However, all adults should complete a healthcare check-up with their primary care provider at least once per year, or more frequently, if recommended.
During your annual check-up, be sure to request that your provider perform a comprehensive physical exam, review your medical history (and medications), and discuss your concerns.
Your healthcare provider can then determine the next steps (including screenings) for your healthcare.
If your healthcare provider recommends additional screenings, it is up to you to complete these and follow up on the results. Failing to do so is a decision that puts your own well-being at risk.