10 Medical Exams & Tests You May Not Realize You Need

10 Medical Exams & Tests You May Not Realize You Need

These important medical exams are the ones that need to make it onto your calendar.

By Judy Koutsky

We know, we know! We should go to the doctor more regularly to make sure everything is in order, but finding the time isn’t always easy. But it could save your life. Prevention, or catching a sign of disease early, is the best way to keep many conditions from becoming more serious. Here, a list of 10 exams and tests you may not have even realized you need.

1. Mole check: Every woman should have a mole check by a dermatologist each year, according to Debra Jaliman, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and author of Skin Rules . “I can't impress upon you how important this is,” Jaliman says. “I have found malignant melanomas in teenagers.”

The exam should be done with magnifiers and should be very thorough, checking all parts of the skin, including the toes, the scalp, and behind the ears, she notes. “In our office, we take photographs and make a map of the patients’ moles,” Jaliman explains. “Malignant melanoma is such a serious problem. A simple biopsy can save a life.”

2. STDs and HIV testing: All sexually active females under age 25 should get annual screening for chlamydia and gonorrhea infections, says Antonio Pizarro, MD, a gynecologist in Shreveport, Louisiana. “This can be done with a simple urine test and does not require a pelvic exam. These infections can lead to chronic pain, infertility, and death if not recognized.”

Additionally, HIV blood testing should be routine for women ages 13-64. “Between 40,000 and 50,000 new HIV infections occur annually,” he adds. “As many as one in five women with HIV don't know their status.” He suggests that HIV testing be done as early as possible in adulthood, then annually depending on risk factors.

3. Pap smear: This is done to check for cervical cancer and pre-cancerous signs (known as cervical dysplasia). Pap testing should start at age 21 and should be coupled with DNA testing for HPV, the cancer virus, says Pizarro. “After normal testing, future testing can be every three years or less often, depending on risk factors,” he says.

4. Mammogram screening: There is some controversy about timing for mammogram screening. “Breast cancer is the no. 2 cause of cancer death among women,” says Pizarro. “The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends annual mammograms starting at age 40. A clinical examination should be done every one to three years for women under 40, annually after 40. Women should practice routine breast self-exam and awareness starting in their 20s.”

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5. Vitamin D screening: “I think the most underrated screening test is regarding a woman’s vitamin D 25 level,” says Eugene Ahn, MD, hematologist/oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion, Illinois. “This is a critical vitamin that is difficult to get sufficient quantities of through diet alone,” he says. “In my experience, I have seen that roughly three out of four patients are vitamin D deficient.” The vitamin is critical for bone and immune system health. Also worth noting: “A lot of epidemiological data shows significant correlations between low vitamin D levels and a higher cancer risk,” Ahn says.

6. Dental exam: Every woman should have a dental checkup once a year consisting of bitewing X-rays, screening for oral cancer, and checking for gum disease, says Kyle Stanley, DDS, cosmetic dentist in Beverly Hills, California. It is also recommended to get a full set of X-rays every three to five years. “We also suggest getting two professional teeth cleanings per year to maintain optimal oral health,” says Stanley.


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7. Colonoscopy: The average woman, who hasn’t experienced any abnormal GI symptoms, should begin getting regular colonoscopies between the ages of 45 and 50, but women who have a family history of certain cancers or of polyp growth should consult their doctors about when a colonoscopy might be right for them, says John Marks, MD, the chief of colorectal surgery for the Main Line Health System. “Signs such as bleeding or change in bowel habits should be evaluated by a doctor for screening,” Marks says. “Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosis among women, and yet, it's an entirely preventable cancer with effective screening.”

8. EKG: “Heart attacks are the no. 1 killer of women,” says Jennifer Burns, CNM, a holistic family practitioner at The Bienetre Center in Phoenix, Arizona. She suggests getting an electrocardiogram (EKG) at 30 to check for any possible problems with the heart’s electrical activity and get a baseline.

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9. CBC blood count: Many women are anemic and don’t realize it. For that reason, a CBC complete blood count should be done annually, says Michele C. Reed, MD, a family medicine physician in New York. If you’re feeling tired or have heavy periods, it could be due to anemia.

10. Hormone level screening: A blood test can measure estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone to see if there are imbalances, says Gino Tutera, MD, an OB/GYN based in Scottsdale, Arizona. “By 40, most women are totally depleted of normal levels of estrogen and have lost nearly all their progesterone and more than half of their testosterone,” she says. “If left unchecked, hormonal imbalances can lead to premature aging and heart disease.” But having this test and identifying any imbalances can help avoid many common health issues such as thyroid disorders, osteoporosis, depression, and breast cancer, says Tutera.

What exam or screening have you been putting off?

Judy Koutsky is the former Editorial Director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also Executive Editor of Parenting.com, AOL Parent and BabyTalk.com. Follow her on Twitter @JudyKoutsky.

Image ©iStock.com/fotostorm

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Thanks for sharing the list of essential medical tests that everyone should take for healthy living. Detecting and preventing disease early is the best method to keep many serious health conditions to become more severe. The list of tests you mentioned above is generally performed in clinical laboratories with the help of tools like seen at ilexmedical.com and many other sites.

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