In doing so, you may be tempted to just go for the basics, and to dispense with diagnostic tests and screenings you consider unnecessary. However, resist the urge, especially if you’ve already celebrated your 50th birthday. You need some tests and screenings—right now—to detect problems early on and, ideally, keep you “batting” from the CEO’s chair rather than sitting in the bleachers.
1. Cardiac health screening. A cardiac stress test ranked first on a Forbes list of the most important screenings individuals should have once they reach middle age. It’s a must for men and women alike because it can easily detect heart disease—the number-one killer of individuals of both genders in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Approximately 610,000 Americans die of heart disease each year, while 735,000 Americans suffer a heart attack, CDC statistics indicate.
A cardiac stress test determines if there is adequate blood flow through the arteries to the heart during periods of increased activity; an inadequate flow is a marker for heart disease. As an alternative or adjunct to a stress test, you might get a simple blood test that measures the level of C-reactive protein—an indicator of inflammation in the blood. The test is valuable because “too much inflammation can cause an arterial plaque to suddenly rupture, triggering a massive clot and possibly even a heart attack,” Forbes reported.
2. A1C test. Also known as the hemoglobin Ac, HbA1c, or glycohemoglobin test, the A1C test is now recognized as a means of detecting pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. The test measures the average of a person’s blood glucose levels over the previous three months. The higher the percentage of blood glucose measured via the test, the higher the blood glucose levels have been; a normal A1c level is 5.7%.
Some people don’t take the need to screen for pre-diabetes seriously, but this is the wrong attitude, Yehuda Handelsman, MD, FACP, FACE, FNLA, an endocrinologist in Tarzana, California, and medical director and principal investigator, Metabolic Institute of America, told Prevention magazine. Most individuals with pre-diabetes don’t know they have it, but should because the condition can lead to full-blown diabetes, Handelsman said. Complications of the latter include cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, eye damage, hearing impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and death.
3. Colorectal cancer screening. Colorectal cancer kills more than 56,000 Americans each year, but nearly 60% of these deaths could be prevented with proper screening and appropriate treatment, according to the CDC website. The American Cancer Society advocates testing for colorectal cancer not only to find the condition early, but to prevent it by detecting the presence of polyps that can be removed, its website noted. Removing polyps is said to stave off the development of colorectal cancer in some individuals.
Starting at age 50, men and women who are at average risk for colorectal cancer (i.e., no history in their family and no other risk factors, such irritable bowel syndrome) should undergo one of four tests that pinpoint polyps and colorectal cancer alike: flexible sigmoidoscopy, double-contrast barium enema, or virtual colonoscopy (all once every five years, followed by a colonoscopy if test results are positive) or traditional colonoscopy (at 10-year intervals), according to the American Cancer Society’s website. The website includes a recommendation that patients not consent to undergo only a digital rectal examination (DRE) to screen for colorectal cancer because it checks only the lower rectum, rather than the entire rectum and colon.
4. Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. The PSA test is one of two ways to screen for prostate cancer in men. The other is a DRE, which can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. PSA is a substance made by the prostate, and higher levels of PSA in the blood can be indicative of prostate tumors.
Some controversy has evolved around the use of the PSA test in prostate cancer screening because many prostate tumors grow extremely slowly or not at all, and because not all men who are in a high-risk category based on PSA screening actually have the potential to develop a fast-growing, life-threatening tumor. Leo Cheng, MPP, PhD, associate professor, radiology and pathology, Harvard Medical School, told Forbes that patients whose “tumors appear to be slow-growing might be better off with no treatment. That’s because treating prostate cancer can cause complications, such as the inability to have an erection or control urination” involved with any surgical procedure.”
Nobody likes to take the time for extra tests—and busy CEOs are no exception. However, biting the bullet now could save a lot of time—not to mention your life—in the long run.