The new year presents a new opportunity to attend to those routines that help to keep us healthy. Just as adequate exercise and nutritious food contribute to healthful daily routines, staying up-to-date on recommended preventive screenings is an important way to protect your health!
Throughout the year, we will highlight some of the recommended screenings for routine preventive health care. Regular check-ups with your primary healthcare professional can give you confidence that you are taking care of yourself and can prompt you to ask about any changes in your body. This month, we’ll focus on glaucoma and cervical cancer awareness.
Glaucoma, a group of diseases that can damage the eye’s optic nerve, is a leading cause of vision loss and blindness, affecting almost three million Americans. It is sometimes called “the sneak thief of sight” because it is common and can go unnoticed for a long time.
There is no cure for glaucoma, but if it is caught early, treatment can prevent further vision loss. While anyone can get glaucoma, certain people are at higher risk including African Americans over 40 years of age, as well as anyone who is older than 60 years of age, who has a family history of glaucoma, or who has diabetes.
If you are in a high-risk group, a comprehensive dilated eye exam can help you find glaucoma early and start treatment. Prescription eye drops can stop glaucoma from progressing. The number of blind and visually impaired people is expected to double by 2030 and triple by 2050 given the aging population, but routine screenings could significantly reduce that number, improving the quality of life for those who are at risk of the disease.
This month, we are also spotlighting cervical cancer, which affects 13,000 women in the United States every year. Anyone with a cervix is at risk for cervical cancer although it is most frequently detected in people over age 30.
Most cases of cervical cancers are caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV also cause other cancers in both women and men.
Fortunately, we have a vaccine that the HPV vaccine can help prevent cervical cancer. In addition, we can screen for cervical cancer. When cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable and associated with long survival and good quality of life.
To reduce the risk of cervical cancer:
Ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine. Receiving a vaccination to prevent HPV infection can reduce your risk of cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers if you are younger than 26 years. HPV vaccine is recommended for all children to reduce their risk of cancers related to HPV.
Ask your doctor about a Pap test. Routine Pap tests are recommended for women, starting at age 21.
Practice safe sex. Reduce your risk of cervical cancer by taking measures to prevent sexually transmitted infections, such as using a condom every time you have sex and limiting the number of sexual partners you have.
Don’t smoke. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about strategies to help you quit.
The Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts local offices offer HPV vaccinations, on a sliding scale, and can provide cervical cancer screenings. We accept most insurances, but these life-saving tests are available for free to individuals who qualify. Call to make an appointment. People can also call the American Cancer Society at 866-951-9355 for help finding a clinic that offers free or low-cost cancer screenings as part of the Women’s Wellness Connection program near them.
As we start the New Year, we encourage all Roanoke City and Alleghany Health District residents to take charge of their health. Staying up-to-date with all recommended vaccines and recommended preventive health screenings is a great way to do so. Prevention, screening and early detection of diseases such as cervical cancer improve treatment options, improve quality of life, and reduce death.