By Dr. Kevin Wang
Let’s get physical
Don’t worry or start freaking out, running outside screaming in horror. I won’t be donning sweatpants and a sweatshirt running around with a headband and legwarmers performing my own personal rendition of Olivia Newton-John’s famous hit in the 80s … unless you want me to. Nope, what I’m talking about is the doctor’s visit that most people find to be an interruption in their daily lives – the annual physical exam!
Let’s start with the general aspects and then break it down to cases, shall we?
The general physical exam is necessary to see if there are any changes since your last visit. It’s a way for us to see how your body and mind have changed. That way, when you come in for an urgent care visit, we’ll know how healthy you normally are and how we can properly treat you. The exam is also necessary to go over some general preventative measures – exercise, diet, mental health, substance abuse, sexual habits, family issues. It’s also a great time to go over all your medical history and current conditions – discussing possible medication changes or any questions you have regarding your conditions. This is the best time to spend with your doctor as you have an extended period of time (annual exams are scheduled for 30-60 minutes as opposed to the basic office visit that is limited to 15 minutes). And for those, “needle-phobics,” blood work is usually part of the workup so we can see how your blood has changed, check your cholesterol and do some other preventative checks (high cholesterol, diabetes, low thyroid).
For women, it’s the time of breast exams, Pap smears and pelvic exams. No one knows your body as well as you do but it’s still important for you to have a breast exam and for the physician to instruct you on the proper technique. As for the Pap smear, it’s the best preventative test for cervical cancer. In fact, it is THE gold standard for screening exams. Time and time again, it has shown to decrease the incidence of cervical cancer if screening is done annually.
And for men, their exams include the famous, “turn your head and cough” exam (and no, it’s not a way for me to feel you up but for me to check for hernias).
For the older population, there are a few other tests that need to be done. For both men and women over the age of 50 (earlier if you have a family history of colon cancer), you need to start thinking about having that colonoscopy done. This is another screening tool that has shown to help diagnose colon cancer in its early stages. The fear of having a scope put up your rear end certainly gives me the heebie-jeebies, but from what patients tell me, the prep the day before is the worst – drinking the fluid that gives you the runs for an entire day. During the exam, you’re asleep so you won’t feel a thing!
For women over 45, think about getting that mammogram done (and again, earlier if there’s a family history of breast cancer). These x-rays can help detect early stage breast cancer. Don’t forget, that breast exam you do at home is still important. If you feel a lump, call your doctor and get it checked out!
For men over 40 or 45, it’s time for the digital rectal exam to check for prostate cancer. I know that you’ve probably heard lots about the PSA test (Prostate Specific Antigen) but I’ll discuss that in another column (I’m running out of room!). But the rectal exam is a good start to see how your prostate feels and to see if further testing is necessary.
So there you have it, the annual physical exam in a nutshell. I do highly recommend everyone to get one, as it’s a way to have your general health assessed. If you have any more questions, please feel free to contact me at the e-mail address below. Take care and see you next month!