Art of Aging: Screenings save lives

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Seniors often joke that they are always seeing a doctor for lots of checks, from blood pressure to mammograms. But, statistics show the screenings done during those visits pay off.

Dr. Carmen Guerra has worked with Penn Medicine and the American Cancer Society on colorectal cancer and improving colonoscopy rates.

While colon polyps are found in 20 to 30% of those tests, each one may be a cancer averted.

Dr. Guerra said, "Had they not come in, potentially, that polyp could have converted to a colorectal cancer 5, 10, 15 years down the line."

Deaths due to colorectal cancer have dropped over the past 20 years.

But Dr. Guerra says only about 10% of that is due to better treatment.

She said, "50% of those deaths that we've averted have been due to screening."

Once upon a time, medicare only covered visits for specific medical problems.

Now it pays for dozens of screenings, some are one-time checks, some are annual tests.

Smokers or those who've quit in the last 15 years can get annual CT scans for lung cancer.

And many at risk for diabetes can get checks twice year.

Don Liss of Independence Blue Cross says, "Then there's a bunch of others, that sometimes we don't think about as much, such as screening for osteoporosis, or brittle or weak bones, especially in post-menopausal women."

Dr. Don Liss of independence blue cross says other lesser-known benefits include obesity screening and counseling, and smoking cessation help.

Vaccinations are also an important part of preventive health.

While a patient's wellness visits and screenings may have ONE goal, doctors often use them to get other health messages across.

Dr. Guerra said, "While you're here, may i give you a flu shot - while you're here, can I send you for your colonoscopy?"

For more details on what's available at no cost, check out The Official U.S. Government Site for Medicare .
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