WEB DESK: Turning 50 is an important milestone–particularly when it comes to your health. This birthday and the years that follow offer a good opportunity to assess your risk factors for common conditions and take preventive steps now where necessary.
Your doctor will likely continue the routine screenings you’ve had in your 30s and 40s—with a couple of important new tests added to the mix.
Colon Cancer Screening
One thing most people dread about turning 50 is having their first colonoscopy. The test identifies changes and abnormalities in your colon and rectum to allow for early detection of colon and rectal cancers. You may not look forward to having your first colonoscopy, but it’s an important test that can save your life.
It’s completely normal to feel nervous about having a colon cancer screening, but knowing exactly what’s involved with the test can help you feel more at ease. Most people who have had colonoscopy exams say the test itself isn’t painful or even uncomfortable. It’s the preparation for the exam that most people dread.
For doctors to get detailed look inside the colon, your bowel must be completely empty. If the bowel isn’t clean, doctors can miss precancerous growths, or polyps, which can easily be removed during the exam.
To ensure your bowel is ready for a colonoscopy, your doctor will recommend a clear liquid diet 24 to 48 hours before your exam. You will also be given a laxative solution to drink the day before the colonoscopy. Most people find the mild cramping and frequent bowel movements during this phase to be the most uncomfortable part of the test.
On your colonoscopy day, your doctor may give you a mild sedative to help you relax. From start to finish, a colonoscopy lasts less than an hour and you’re free to go home afterward. If your colonoscopy results are normal, you likely won’t need another screening for 10 years, depending on other risk factors you may have.
Prostate Cancer Screening
The decision to be screened for prostate cancer is one you should make with your doctor. Current screening guidelines caution that in some cases, the risks of PSA tests may outweigh the benefits for most men. The PSA screening test can sometimes produce false positives and lead to unnecessary biopsies. However, for some men at high risk of prostate cancer, the PSA test can provide critical early detection that allows for more effective treatment.
To keep your heart healthy, continue to have your cholesterol levels checked every five years, or as directed by your doctor. A simple blood draw at a lab or your doctor’s office is all that’s required, and results are usually available in a few days.
If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, or are overweight, talk to your doctor about being screened for Type 2 diabetes. By measuring blood sugar levels from a blood sample, your doctor can confirm a diagnosis or tell you if you’re at risk to develop the disease.
In your 50s, you may be at higher risk for gum disease, discolored teeth, and tooth loosening. These are all common concerns and are treated most effectively when addressed early. Continue to see your dentist every six months for an exam and cleaning to maintain healthy gums and teeth worth smiling about.