An apple a day keeps the doctor away, so the saying goes. A modern-day version of the proverbial apple is the health assessment, with which we hope to keep serious illnesses at bay. With evolving technology, it is now possible to assess a person’s risk of developing an array of diseases. However, experts suggest that we may not be signing up for the right tests.
During a health assessment, a detailed history and physical examination, together with basic blood, urine and stool tests, can be used to detect adverse lifestyle factors that increase a person’s risk of developing lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Diseases which are already present can also be diagnosed.
For example, in the case of diabetes, if risk factors such as being overweight and an unhealthy diet can be identified early, lifestyle changes (such as weight reduction, regular exercise and a low-sugar diet) can be adopted to reduce the likelihood of developing the condition, said doctors. For those who already have diabetes, once a diagnosis is made, therapeutic lifestyle modification and medication can be undertaken to control the condition and minimise potential complications such as blindness, heart attack and kidney failure.
While there is no universal agreement on which tests to do and when they should be done, the following is suggested.
However, doctors advise that not all health assessment tests available are necessary, and say that it is useful for individuals to consult a doctor before going for any. Doctors will be able to recommend the necessary medical tests according to the patient’s needs after the initial consultation and examination. Any additional concerns the patient has will also be discussed, and, where necessary, further tests will be carried out.
An ideal test must be safe, affordable and easy to carry out. It should be able to detect commonly occurring conditions that will respond well to early treatment. Basic tests which have proven to be useful for most people are measurements of height and weight to obtain body mass index, blood pressure, blood sugar and blood cholesterol. With regard to cancer screening, pap smears and mammograms are widely proven to be effective for the early detection of cervical and breast cancer.
Tumour markers, however have not been proven to be useful as screening tests for early cancer. There may be false negatives and false positives. However, tumour markers may be useful in cases where there is a positive family history or if the individual has undergone treatment for a malignancy and the marker is used to track for recurrence.