When it comes to serious illness, prevention is more effective, less grueling, and less costly than treatment. That’s even more important as you age, and doctors say four easy, noninvasive imaging scans can help.
“As you age, healthy living takes an active effort,” said Regional One Health diagnostic radiologist Muhammad Afzal, MD. “That includes paying attention to your physical and mental wellbeing and staying on top of regular screenings.”
Bone density scans (DEXA), mammograms, lung cancer screenings, and coronary calcium scans can offer early warning about diseases linked to aging.
“These are quick, non-invasive tests,” Dr. Afzal said. “There is some radiation, but it’s such a low dose that health implications are next to zero.”
He said mammograms and bone density scans are essential for women.
“Studies show yearly screening mammograms starting at age 40 significantly reduce cancer mortality,” Dr. Afzal said. “They identify cancer early; when you have more treatment options and one can achieve complete remission rather than just containing the disease.”
A DEXA scan is suggested for women 65 and over to prevent fractures tied to osteoporosis. He said, “If the scan shows your bones are thinning, you can take medicine to improve bone mass and prevent fractures.”
Lung cancer screening and coronary calcium scans can also inform treatment decisions.
Experts recommend a low-density lung CT for anyone 50 or older with a 20-packper-year history of smoking – the equivalent of smoking one pack per day for 20 years or two packs per day for 10 years. It is recommended for current and past smokers.
“We know smoking has a direct link to lung cancer, so if you smoke or used to smoke, you should get this scan every year to look for lung nodules,” Dr. Afzal said. “If identified, further detection is needed to identify cancer potential early and improve outcomes.”
A coronary calcium scan, meanwhile, is for average-risk, asymptomatic patients. “It shows how much calcium is in your arteries to determine your heart disease risk,” Dr. Afzal said. “That helps with treatment decisions, like starting cholesterol medication or making lifestyle changes like eating healthier and exercising.”
With all the tests, you should start by talking with your primary care provider about your risk factors and how they affect your screening needs.
“Your primary care provider can read the results and discuss your treatment options,” Dr. Afzal explained. “They can also help with non-imaging tests, like colonoscopies and pap smear tests.”
Patients with a strong family history, comorbidities, and other risk factors for a disease may need additional screenings.
While each patient is different, Dr. Afzal said everyone could benefit from preventative care. “It identifies diseases before they become difficult or impossible to treat. You have to invest time and effort, but it is part of a healthy lifestyle and prevents you from having something go unchecked when it could have been treated.”
For more information, contact East Campus Imaging Center (6555 Quince Road) at 901.515.3600.
By Kelly Josephsen