Simple Checks That Can Save Your Life

Here are the key tests too many of us are missing:

1) Smear test

Cervical cancer smear test
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Why it’s skipped: More than one million women miss cervical screening checks, with rates falling every year since 2011.

Women aged 25-49 are the most likely to decline a smear test, say new figures. According to other research by GynaeHealth UK, the main reasons women give for skipping smears are because they find the test uncomfortable or embarrassing, they’re too busy or it’s difficult to get an appointment.

Why you need it: Smear tests are a method of detecting abnormal cells in the cervix. Left untreated these can develop into cancer – which is why the test is credited with saving 5,000 lives a year. Eight women in the UK are diagnosed with cervical cancer each day and it’s the most common form of the disease in under 35s.


What to do: All women registered with a GP between 25 and 64 are invited for cervical screening every three to five years. Women under 25 will only be given a smear test if they’re experiencing symptoms such as bleeding between periods or an unusual discharge. Ask your GP surgery when your next smear is due if you’re unsure or you have any of the above symptoms.

2) Self breast check

Why it’s skipped:
A third of women don’t check their breasts regularly for signs of cancer, often because they don’t know how to, according to the new report. And while most know that a lump ought to be checked, many don’t realise that redness, a rash or an inverted nipple could also be cancer signs.

Why you need it: In 2011, more than 50,000 women in the UK were diagnosed with breast cancer and about 11,000 died. As Breast Cancer Care chief executive Samia al Qadhi explains: ‘We know earlier detection can mean more effective treatment.”

What to do: Experts now say the important thing to do is to look at and feel your breasts regularly, so you spot any new changes quickly. You can do this in the shower, when you use body lotion or when you get dressed. See your GP if you notice any of the following: a lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast or armpit, a change in the size or breast shape, nipple discharge, dimpling on the skin, a rash on or around the nipple or a nipple becoming inverted or sunken.

3) Mammogram

A consultant analyzing a mammogram
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Why it’s skipped: The mammogram programme has come under fire in recent years for causing overdiagnosis and treatment, with a review in 2012 finding that screening saves around 1,300 lives each year – but also leads to some 4,000 women having treatment they don’t need.

As a result, figures show that the number attending screenings has fallen for the third consecutive year as women fear being subjected to needless breast removal and surgery on harmless cancers that would never have caused symptoms during their lifetime.

Why you need it: Mammograms remain the most effective way of detecting breast cancer at an early stage, when lumps may be too small to feel but can still be easily treated. Most women when surveyed still say they’d prefer being over-cautious than risk missing anything cancerous.

What to do: Women over 50 fall under the NHS Breast Screening Programme and are checked every three years until 70, although the age range is gradually being extended to 47-73. Women under 50 with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer (three first-degree relatives) may be referred by their GP to their local breast clinic for earlier screening – often an ultrasound, as mammograms aren’t very useful for women under 45 who have denser breast tissue.

4) HIV test

Why it’s skipped: Embarrassment, fear and stigma are all factors for the low rate of tests among certain groups – but mainly because heterosexuals believe they’re low risk.




Why you need IT: HIV has been back in the headlines with actor Charlie Sheen admitting he has it and new figures showing 18,000 people in the UK don’t know they have the virus. Once seen as a gay disease, rates among heterosexuals continue to rise, with research showing they’re less likely to be tested and are diagnosed later.

Post-divorce 40- and 50- somethings are a particularly high risk group as research shows these age groups are less likely to use condoms – or consider a test.

Dr Peter Greenhouse, of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, has also warned dating apps such as Tinder could also trigger an explosion of HIV and other STIs in heterosexuals.

Provided it is caught early and treated with drugs, people with HIV now enjoy a nearly normal lifespan.

What to do: Anyone who has had unprotected sex, especially with multiple partners, needs to have this test. However, the highest risk group is still men who have sex with other men, people who inject drugs and people born in Africa, along with their sexual partners.

For your nearest clinic that offers free and anonymous testing, visit Terrence Higgins Trust at tht.org.uk

5) Bowel cancer check

Why it’s skipped: In England, only around 55% of the people over 60 who receive a bowel cancer postal test actually return it.

Research shows that for many, the concept of collecting and then sending their poo samples through the post is just too unpleasant.

Why you need IT: The test aims to detect bowel cancer – the UK’s fourth most common cancer that kills over 16,000 people per year – at an early stage by testing for hidden blood in a stool.

And it works – figures show those who take part in the screening programme have a 25% lower chance of dying from the disease.

What to do: In England, everyone from ages 60-74 is now sent a kit in the post every two years.

If you’ve not received a kit, or you want to continue getting them after 74, ring the NHS bowel cancer screening programme helpline on tel: 0800 707 6060.

The test is actually very simple to do and can be done in the privacy of your own home.

Anyone with new symptoms, such as bleeding in your stools or from your bottom, persistent changes in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss or abdominal pain, should still see their GP immediately.

6) Eye test

Female looking into diopter
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Why it’s skipped? We don’t get round to booking one or we simply don’t have any vision problems – plus many people worry about the high cost of new glasses if their prescription changes. Whatever the reason, six million people in the UK have never had an eye test, while 14 million can’t remember when they last had a check.




Why you need it: An eye test doesn’t just show whether or not you need glasses, it can also detect early signs of a number of serious conditions before you’re aware of any symptoms, including diabetes and high blood pressure. It can also pick up glaucoma, a condition that causes increased pressure in the
eye and can lead to blindness if it is left untreated.

What to do: Book an appointment every two years with a local optometrist for a full eye health exam. Eye tests are free for the over 60s. If any problems are picked up, you’ll be referred to your GP or a specialist eye hospital.

7) Mole self check

Doctor examining woman with melanoma
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Why it’s skipped: We’re still not really skin-cancer aware in this country – despite our soaring rates of the disease. Indeed, research by the British Association of Dermatologists this year found that just 6% of people in the UK regularly checked their skin, with more than three-quarters admitting they wouldn’t know how to recognise a skin cancer.

Why you need it: Skin cancer is now the fifth most common cancer in the UK, with 2,500 people dying each year in this country from malignant melanoma – the most deadly form.

“Picking up on any changes to our skin needs to become a cultural habit for us all,” stresses dermatologist Dr Bav Shergill. “Bear in mind that cancer can appear anywhere, including under your nails and on the soles of your feet, so your whole body needs checking.”




What to do: Check your skin regularly – ask your partner or a friend to do your back for you. As well as any changes in existing moles, other changes in your skin, such as bleeding or scaling, can all be early signs of skin cancer and mean you should see your GP, who may refer you to a dermatologist to rule out cancer.

Originally posted on www.mirror.co.uk

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