Women Urged to Remain Vigilant with Health Screenings
Michele Mannion, M.D.
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When it comes to protecting your health, few advances pack the power of a good screening test. Take a look at the history of cervical cancer: Fifty years ago, the disease claimed the lives of more women each year than any other cancer. Since doctors started using the Pap test, the incidence of cervical cancer has dropped by more than 70 percent – to number 15 on the list of cancer killers of American women.
While screening may not be the perfect solution for every health concern, Michele Mannion, MD, an internal medicine physician with Western Connecticut Medical Group in Brewster, New York, urges women to remain vigilant with screenings – especially breast, colorectal and gynecological – to prevent cancer or detect it early, when it is most likely to respond favorably to treatment.
“I am a big proponent of developing partnerships with my patients to help them live well,” explained Dr. Mannion, who balances a busy medical practice and family life along with being an avid cyclist, runner and skier. “Screening is one way to keep on top of your health in addition to maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding injury with safe behaviors. I strive to provide my patients with personal and comprehensive health care that will help them lead active lives.”
Beating Breast Disease
One of the most basic screening tests, the mammogram, stirred a lot of controversy a few years ago when some researchers questioned the benefits of its widespread use. After analyzing the studies, both the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute came out soundly in favor of the test for women starting at age 40.
For women 50 and older, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says an annual mammogram cuts the risk of dying of breast cancer by 16 percent or more; in one recent large study, the risk was cut by up to 45 percent. “While mammography is not foolproof, it is our best deterrent to breast cancer when combined with periodic physician exams and a woman’s self-exam each month,” Dr. Mannion said. Additionally, breast MRI provides an added check against breast cancer in high-risk women.
Curbing Colon Cancer
If you have no family history of colorectal cancer, a baseline colonoscopy at age 50 is recommended for adults to begin a regular course of screening as they grow older. During a colonoscopy, a doctor inserts a flexible, lighted tube into the rectum and guides it into the colon to look for and remove growths called polyps, which are the source of most colon cancers. Before the exam, patients generally need to drink large quantities of a laxative-like substance to clean out the colon. “While many patients find consuming the liquid is an unpleasant experience, the limited time spent to prepare for this test brings great benefits. It’s well worth the effort,” Dr. Mannion said.
In part because of increased screening, deaths from colon cancer dropped from more than 57,000 in 2000 to 53,580 in 2004, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Dr. Mannion said colon cancer screenings may include both a fecal occult blood test and colonoscopy. “Your doctor will determine the best schedule based on your family history and your own health status,” she explained. “Monitoring is essential for prevention and early detection.”
Warding Off Gynecologic Concerns
Once past the childbearing years, women should not ignore the parts of their bodies that make them uniquely female. While regular pelvic exams and pap smears will address infection and cancer risk, the habit of going to the doctor itself presents an opportunity to discuss symptoms, changes or sexual concerns as you age. “Many women don’t take advantage of their interactions with their doctors to engage in conversation about their health goals or problems. The pursuit of health is a more fruitful effort when you engage your doctor in a partnership. Communication is key, so don’t be afraid to speak up,” Dr. Mannion said.
Baby-boomers: Is it time for a tune-up?
Beyond your mammogram, colonoscopy and gynecologic screenings, an annual checkup with your primary care physician will likely prompt other screening and prevention to maintain or improve your health. Based on clinical guidelines and your personal history, these may include:
- Blood tests (cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar)
- Blood pressure measurement
- Body mass index (BMI)
- Bone density test
- Assessment or discussion of mental/emotional health
- Vaccines (influenza, pneumonia, shingles, tetanus booster)
To find a primary care physician, visit online at WesternConnecticutHealthNetwork.org, or call 1-800-516-4743.
About Western Connecticut Health Network
Western Connecticut Health Network is the region’s premiere, patient-centered health care organization serving residents of Western Connecticut and adjacent New York. The organization is anchored by two nationally recognized hospitals, Danbury Hospital and New Milford Hospital, as well as their affiliated organizations. In addition to the two hospitals, the continuum of care offered includes the following affiliates:
Western Connecticut Health Network has centers of excellence in women’s health, cardiovascular and cancer services; minimally invasive and joint and spine surgery; digestive disorders and radiology and diagnostic imaging. It also offers specialized programs for neonatology with a Level IIIb neonatal intensive care unit and accredited sleep disorder centers. Both hospitals also maintain active clinical research programs, offering clinical trials for patients with cancer and other health concerns.
For more information, visit WesternConnecticutHealthNetwork.org, DanburyHospital.org; NewMilfordHospital.org and share your comments with us Facebook.com/DanburyHospital or Facebook.com/NewMilfordHospital.