New Year’s Eve: Parties, nostalgia, dreams of the future and…cancer screenings? Yes – cancer screenings. The most efficient way to avoid missing important tests, especially lifesaving ones, is to routinize them. As we know that Auld Lang Syne marks the stroke of midnight, that same stroke makes us eligible for screening tests that we have before paid out-of-pocket, a big deductible or co-pay, or have avoided all together. No longer. The Affordable Care Act covers preventive screening, without deductibles or co-pays for colorectal cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer and testing for the human papilloma virus that often leads to cervical cancer.
It is not simply a financial obstacle. It’s one of mind-set. Each of us likes to believe that preventive screening tests are a good idea for someone else. Me, not me. I’m too busy. I’m too young. Others follow traditional but unenlightened routes. “My grandmother taught us that everyone who gets cancer dies, and if it’s found and you have surgery, that spreads the cancer.” Well, with due respect to words of experience and compassion, things have changed. These cancers are fixable, even curable, when caught small. Preventive testing can catch cancer before they give symptoms, when they are small, the ideal time to be eradicated.
No one likes to do these tests. For cervical cancer screening, a sample of the vaginal cells is taken during a pelvic exam, and most women find them uncomfortable or even upsetting. Being on an exam table with your feet up is a bit off-putting, to say the least. But a thorough exam by a professional is an effective way to check the cervix, uterus and even the ovaries. A test for the human papilloma virus is done at the same time. But the pay-off can be great, even life-saving.
Mammograms are in the same category. A brief x-ray or longer MRI can be used to check for lumps too small to feel, but the most fixable. Sonograms can help, as a good exam done by an experienced provider. Many women do not like the breast squeezing when the breasts are between two glass panels during the regular mammogram.
Colonoscopies can be even more daunting – and equally life-saving. A 20 minute procedure in which a colonoscope, a long flexible telescope tube, is placed in the rectum and travels up while you’re sedated is not a welcome thought. The preparation to clean out all residual stool is the part most of us hate. Clear liquids for hours, a stiff dose of a laxative, and a few hours on the potty, and then fasting before the test is unpleasant at best and really uncomfortable at worst as you evacuate everything you’ve had to eat in the previous two days all at once. But the mantra is the same, as finding colorectal cancer when it is small can be lifesaving.
So raise your New Year’s glass and resolutions to a healthier future, and schedule your testing NOW for 2014 when it is covered by insurance!