A young woman and her doctor have a consultation.
A young woman and her doctor have a consultation.
A young woman and her doctor have a consultation.

Mammograms, Colonoscopies and Other Routine Tests: Can I Skip Them During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

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Routine tests and screenings such as mammograms, colonoscopies, and Pap, cholesterol and blood pressure tests are effective means of spotting diseases before they get worse.

But the coronavirus pandemic has raised concerns about routine preventive care. Is it OK to skip these screenings while the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still spreading?

In general, it’s very important to stick to your schedule for these tests, which help give doctors early warnings if your health is changing. Health care providers are taking many extra precautions to help prevent the spread of the virus.

At Johns Hopkins Medicine, our added safety measures include screening and testing for COVID-19, wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, changing processes to minimize contact and taking additional cleaning measures. We also test patients for COVID-19 in advance of procedures and surgeries. This helps ensure that those who are infected but asymptomatic (showing no symptoms) do not come into our care facilities.

Berendena Vander Tuig, M.D., M.P.H., from Johns Hopkins Community Physicians, offers some perspective on staying healthy while avoiding COVID-19.

Tests You Shouldn’t Skip During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Talk to your doctor about what screenings are best for you, and follow his or her recommendations, especially if you’re living with a condition that puts you more at risk for certain diseases.

In general, here are some of the tests and checkups that you probably shouldn’t postpone since they are important to your overall health:

For Kids

Pediatric checkups and well child visits: Keeping your children healthy and up-to-date on their vaccines is essential. Work with your pediatrician or care center to make sure your kids don’t miss these important in-person visits.

For Women

Pap tests with or without human papillomavirus (HPV) screening: These tests can detect certain cancers of the cervix, as well as viral conditions that put women at higher risk for cervical cancer. If your recent Pap tests were normal, you should have a Pap test every three to five years. However, if you have a history of abnormal Pap tests, you may need to have them more frequently.

Mammograms: A yearly mammogram (or more or less frequent, as your doctor recommends) is an essential step in early detection of breast cancer.

Bone mineral density tests: As women get older, thinning bones can increase the risk of fractures. This test assesses your risk and helps your doctor decide if you need calcium supplements or other treatment for bone mineral loss.

Learn more about women’s preventive health care at every stage of life.

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For Men

Prostate cancer screening: Men should follow their doctor’s instructions on getting tested for prostate cancer regularly.

For Women and Men

Colonoscopy: Women and men should get colonoscopies starting at age 45, according to recently updated recommendations. Colonoscopies can spot colon cancer, which when treated early, can be managed effectively.

Tests for heart and vascular health: For heart health, adults should keep track of their blood pressure and body mass index (BMI).

You should follow your doctor’s guidance on getting regular blood tests for factors relevant to heart disease risk, such as:

  • Blood sugar
  • Cholesterol
  • Coronary artery calcium
  • C-reactive protein
  • Other factors as your doctor suggests

Click here for five heart health numbers you should know.

Telemedicine and Telehealth During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Scans, exams and procedures need to be done in person. But for consultations, discussion of your test results, general health questions and follow-up appointments, a video visit might be a good option. Ask your health care provider if their practice is set up for telemedicine.

Maintain your health during the coronavirus pandemic

With so much attention focused on COVID-19, it’s easy to forget about other health issues such as cancer or heart disease, but these threats are still around. The good news is that with screening, in many cases, you can prevent them or catch problems early so that treatment is more effective.

Preventive measures such as mammograms, Pap tests, colonoscopies and other tests and screenings are essential to good health. And, just as important: If you are experiencing any symptoms or signs of illness, don’t wait. Call your health care providers and let them help.

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Published August 6, 2020