Preventive health screenings you should not postpone

Now is the time to take care of any screenings that you've put off

Preventive health screenings you should not postpone

Dr. Christopher Johansen is a radiologist and breast imaging specialist at the Edith Sanford Breast Center. As such he has witnessed firsthand a troubling trend to delay mammography screenings during the coronavirus pandemic.

“You can markedly impact your risk of dying from breast cancer by getting a screening mammogram,” Dr. Johansen said. “There is some flexibility on your screening mammogram but at the end of the day if you don’t get your screening mammogram, it will not help you decease your risk of dying of breast cancer.”

This advice doesn’t apply exclusively to mammograms.

Have you put off a health screening or simply forgot to schedule it? Many have. Get back on track. The following health screenings are crucial to establishing and maintaining good health and for detecting disease at an early stage.

Colorectal cancer screening

Colorectal cancer is 90% treatable when detected early. Screenings can also find noncancerous colon polyps or colon cancer early, when they can be easily removed or cured. Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cancer killer in America (among men and women when combined).

Patients should be screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 45 — stool tests every 1-3 years or colonoscopy every 10 years, or more often as determined by their physician. About 90% of people diagnosed with colon cancer are older than 50.

Sanford Health offers these screenings:

  • Colonoscopy:  A procedure that looks for cancerous or precancerous polyps in the colon using a camera and light on a flexible tube. If noncancerous polyps are found during the procedure, they can easily be removed before they can become cancerous. Patients should be screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 45 — stool tests every 1-3 years or colonoscopy every 10 years, or more often as determined by their physician.
  • FIT (fecal immunochemical test): A test that helps detect bleeding in the digestive tract, which could be a sign of colorectal cancer. Patients should be screened every year. If screening comes back abnormal, a colonoscopy is needed.
  • FIT-DNA test: A highly accurate test that checks for tumor-specific DNA changes. Patients should be screened every 3 years. If screening comes back abnormal, a colonoscopy is needed.

“People are thinking, ‘Well, I’ll do it next year,’” said Dr. Jason Myrmoe, a primary care physician with Sanford. “Men and women will just follow it up with the next visit. So rather than a month’s delay it could potentially be six months, or a year delay. That’s much longer for that cancer to spread. Then it becomes much more difficult to treat.”

Cervical cancer screening

Cervical cancer can be preventable. In addition to screening, HPV vaccination is also encouraged for most patients between the ages of 9 and 12. There’s nothing right now that can prevent ovarian cancer, but women who make some lifestyle choices can reduce their risk.

Women should start getting screened at age 21. There are two types of cervical cancer screenings available, a Pap smear also known as a Pap test and an HPV test. Depending on your age and other risk factors your provider may have different recommendations for screening options.

“We screen for cancer because we want to identify it and catch it before it becomes a bigger problem than it already is,” Dr. Myrmoe said.

Disease-specific screening

Diabetes is a common example of a chronic disease that needs to be monitored. Are you getting your blood work? And getting your foot exams and your eyes checked on a regular basis?

Video visits can be an effective aid in many cases for diabetes and other chronic conditions like hypertension.

After an initial visit for diabetes, for instance, providers can often monitor patients without another face-to-face visit.

“After you’ve seen them in person, patients can do a quick video visit to talk about insulin management and adjustments and following up after we do the new medication,” Dr. Myrmoe said.


It’s not a screening exactly, but immunizations are a vital part of a preventive health plan, particularly for children. Postponing vaccinations could lead to outbreaks of preventable diseases should too many families put off care.

The vaccination process is often a partner with scheduled wellness visits. Without the visits, vaccines can fall behind.

“We definitely want families to come in,” said Dr. Laura Whittington, a Sanford Health pediatrician. “We want to stay up-to-date on vaccines and we want to make sure that they don’t have chronic health issues, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.”


Sanford Health recommends annual mammograms starting at age 40. An annual screening can find breast cancer at its earliest and most treatable stage. Breast radiologists, certified mammographers and genetic counselors at Sanford all work with you to create a personalized prevention plan based on your genetics and risk factors.

“Your ability to decrease your risk of dying of breast cancer is directly related to having regular mammography,” Dr. Johansen said. “If you wait on that test you may be okay but your chances of breast cancer developing, and then not being detected, go up.”

Behavioral health screening

Taking care of your mental health is also just as important as your physical health.

“The longer we let things go on, the more effect they have on our body and our social health,” said Jeffrey Leichter, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and the lead administrator for behavioral health integration for Sanford Health.

“If we can get treatment sooner rather than later, the odds of getting into a full recovery are much higher than delayed care.  … If you had pneumonia and you didn’t go to the hospital and get antibiotics and get that treated, you’re more likely to have a bad outcome. The same thing would stand for depression or anxiety.”

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Posted In Behavioral Health, Bemidji, Cancer Screenings, Family Medicine, Fargo, Healthy Living, Imaging, Immunizations, Internal Medicine, Sioux Falls, Virtual Care