Surprised? The media is broadcasting disease awareness campaigns and many doctors make it seem like there is no downside to getting checked out for potential medical problems. However, many doctors believe that this is just not true. Some tests can’t spot problems early enough to cure them. Others don’t discriminate between harmless issues and something that may be more worrisome. And following up on false alarms requires more tests and procedures that come with their own risks. Plus unnecessary tests are a big waste of money.
Our medical experts helped us round up five common tests that can sometimes be overused. Their recommendations come mainly from reviews performed by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, an independent research group. Of course, you should talk to your doctor about what screenings you need based on your individual history.
1 Ovarian-Cancer Screening
Price – Ultrasound costs around $175, CA-125 test $25 and lab fees may be extra.
What is involved using a vaginal probe to obtain ultrasound images or the CA-125 blood test, which measures a protein that may be associated to ovarian cancer.
Who should skip it Most women. That is because most women are not at high risk. And neither test is likely to detect the cancer at a curable stage.
Who should get it Women at higher risk for ovarian cancer. If you have a family history of ovarian, breast, or colon cancer, you should be screened. In addition, evidence suggests that using estrogen after menopause for more than five years might also increase your risk.
Price – About $130, but usually covered by most insurance providers.
What is involved X-rays of your breasts to check for abnormalities.
Who should skip it Women younger than 40 are not at high risk. There is a very high likelihood that you will be subject to several follow-up tests and treatments for harmless changes in breast tissue.
Who should get it Women 50-74. You should be tested every two years. Be sure to talk to your doctor about whether the benefits of regular mammograms outweigh the risks. If you are younger than 40, you should consider testing only if you are at high risk.
3 Bone-Density Testing
Price – About $130
What is involved Using an imaging technique called DEXA to check fragile bones.
Who should skip it Women younger than 65 and men younger than 70 who are not at high risk. For many people in these age groups, any bone loss is likely to be due to osteopenia, a milder form of bone loss that often does not lead to bone fractures. But many doctors treat it anyway, using bone building drugs such as alendronate (Fosamax and generic) and ibandronate (Boniva and generic.) These drugs carry risks such as thigh fractures, throat or chest pain, difficulty swallowing, and heartburn.
Who should get it Women 65 and most men at age 70.
4 Skin-Cancer Screening
Price – Cost of an office visit
What is involved A visual examination of your skin, looking for signs of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Who should skip it People not at high risk for skin cancer, because the screening has not proven to be effective. But you should see a doctor if you notice suspicious changes in the color, size, shape or number of moles.
Who should get it People with a family history of melanoma, a personal history of frequent sunburns, and a large or increasing number of moles, or if you are fair skinned or have lots of freckles.
5 Pap Test
Price – $150-$300 or more and additional lab fees. If your doctor finds abnormalities, you might pay additional costs for further tests.
What is involved Scraping cells from inside and around the cervix to check for cancer or precancerous changes in cells.
Who should skip it Women younger than 21 (even if you are sexually active). You can also skip it if you are 65 or older and have had regular Pap tests with normal results, or you have had your cervix removed and have no history of cervical cancer. An estimated 22 million U.S. women who had a hysterectomy still might undergo unnecessary Pap tests to check for cancer, according to a report from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The problem is that women with a low risk for cervical cancer, might be prompted to take repeat tests or other medical procedures due to the detection of harmless abnormalities.
Who should get it Women ages 21 to 64. But annual tests are not required. Cervical cancer usually takes 10 to 20 years to develop, so testing every three years is recommended. If you have a history of cervical cancer, you should ask your doctor how often you need to be screened.
When To Get Screened Immediately!
By definition, a screening test looks for disease in people who show no signs or symptoms. If you have obvious symptoms, such as a breast lump, blood in your stool, a suspicious mole, or anything else, you should report it to your doctor. Then the tests are considered diagnostic.