Health screening consists of doctors' medical tests that detect diseases and health conditions before manifesting as signs or symptoms. Screenings aid in early problem detection, when they may be easier to treat. These tests also minimize unclear, ambiguous, or confusing results. While screening tests are not always accurate, it is generally more valuable having them at the appropriate times, under a healthcare provider's recommendation, than not having them at all.
Screening tests are not diagnostic. Instead, they identify a population section that requires additional testing to determine disease presence or absence. Depending on a person's age, gender, and medical history, screening can detect medical conditions including diabetes, certain types of cancer, high blood pressure, and mental health conditions such as depression. Individuals should consult their healthcare providers regarding the appropriate screening timings and frequency.
Among the tests is a lipid panel test which is a simple blood procedure that determines cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a soft, sticky substance that exists within the body. Total cholesterol comprises good (HDL) cholesterol, bad (LDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides, a particular type of fat. A lipid panel test provides individual results for good and bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
Pap smears are cell samples taken from a woman's cervix to look for cellular changes that may indicate cervical cancer. The test is important for sexually active women under 65 years. Notably, an 'abnormal' Pap smear does not necessarily suggest that a person has cervical cancer. Some organizations also recommend HPV (human papillomavirus) screening during the Pap smear in specific populations.
A fasting blood glucose test screens for diabetes. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF ) recommends screening for abnormal blood glucose and type 2 diabetes in adults over 45 years and overweight or obese people over 40 years. Additionally, if the results are normal, repeating these tests should happen every three years. Individuals at higher risk, such as those with diabetes, may take the screening earlier or more frequently.
The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is a blood test that detects its presence in the blood. Antigens are any substances that cause the immune system to react. Prostate cancer's presence elevates PSA. However, other prostate conditions, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which is noncancerous swelling of the prostate, can also elevate PSA.
Mammography tests for breast cancer mostly in women. Beginning at ages 45 and 50, this test is done together with a clinical breast exam. A doctor uses specialized medical imaging where a low-dose x-ray system checks inside the breasts. The x-ray exposes a patient to a low dose of ionizing radiation to produce the body's internal images. Currently, there are three mammography types, namely computer-aided detection, digital mammography, and breast tomosynthesis. The USPSTF recommends taking the test every one year to two years after age 50.
Dermatologists frequently screen for skin cancer. This is especially important if one has fair skin and is prone to sun damage or has a skin cancer history in their family. During a skin exam, the doctor looks for pigmented areas appearing abnormal in size, shape, color, texture, moles, and birthmarks to identify any that require further examination.
Many organizations, including the USPSTF, recommend screening for colon cancer or polyps from age 45. A long, flexible tube called a colonoscope is inserted into the rectum. A doctor sees the colon's interior using a tiny video camera at the tip of the tube. Colonoscopy detects abnormalities in the colon and rectum.