WHY IT MATTERS: Dr Susan Mayou, consultant dermatologist at The Cadogan Clinic, says keeping a regular check on your skin is vital. “Melanomas are one of the most common types of cancers in young adults aged 15-34. Early detection and intervention are imperative as this can result in a cure. A personal with a melanoma of less than 0.75mm thick can expect to have a 95% cure rate, but with a melanoma greater than 4mm thick, this can fall to as low as 25%.” If you have moles, it’s always wise to get tested, but if you notice any irregularities in shape, size, colour or texture of moles, see your GP or book a check-up at a private clinic.
HOW TO GET TESTED: Mole Check, a service offered at The Cadogan Clinic, is the UK’s most comprehensive service for screening, diagnosing and treating skin cancer, and is the only mole check of its kind approved by the British Skin Foundation. Your GP can also help and refer you to a specialist at your local hospital.
WHAT IT INVOLVES: You’ll be seen by a consultant dermatologist, who will digitally map your entire body with a special tool designed to detect the subtlest changes in the number of moles. “Any mole that your dermatologist is concerned about will be examined on the spot under a high-powered microscope and a digital image taken to enable monitoring and early detection of any change,” Dr Mayou explains. Mole Mapping gives you a full report, including photographs, of the state of your skin, which is then kept on record, enabling your dermatologist to track any changes over time.
HOW OFTEN: Dr Mayou says annual mole checks are recommended, although more frequent checks may be necessary for high-risk individuals, including people who have abnormal moles or those who’ve had moles removed in the past.
WHY IT MATTERS: Around 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the UK and around two women die every day from the disease, which may sound like a lot, but this is a 75% reduction since the NHS introduced the cervical screening programme. Cervical screening – also known as a smear test – is not a test to look for cervical cancer; it’s to identify women at high risk of developing it and to prevent cervical cancer from happening.
HOW TO GET TESTED: If you’re between the ages of 25-50, you’ll be called for a smear test every three years. After the age of 50, your screening will take place every five years until you’re 64.
WHAT IT INVOLVES: Cervical screening programmes test for human papilloma virus (HPV). Certain strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer. If these strains are found, cells from the cervix will be examined under a microscope to determine your risk of cancer, treatment and when you should be tested again. “Your smear test appointment lasts around ten minutes, but the actual test only takes a minute or two,” says GP at Bupa UK Dr Samantha Wild. “Your nurse will use an instrument called a speculum to gently open your vagina, so they can see your cervix (neck of your womb). They’ll then use a small brush to take a sample of cells from your cervix. They’ll send this sample to a lab to be tested. One of the most common myths about a smear test is that it’s a painful procedure. You may find the test a little uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t hurt. You might also feel anxious, worried or embarrassed – don’t let this stop you from attending - it’s a quick procedure that can save your life.”
HOW OFTEN: Every three years is the norm for most women, although Dr Wild says you shouldn’t wait for your smear test to raise concerns – always let your GP know about anything unusual. “If you’re experiencing abnormal bleeding, discharge or bleeding after sex, speak to your doctor.”
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WHY IT MATTERS: According to the NHS, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Regular mammogram appointments mean a higher chance of picking up cancer earlier – and the earlier breast cancer is found, the better the outcome. Most cancers found during a mammogram are at an early stage when they are too small to see or feel.
HOW TO GET TESTED: You’ll receive a screening invitation from the age of 50, as long as you are registered with a GP. “However, if you notice any signs or symptoms of breast cancer, do not wait to receive your screening invitation, speak to your GP. They may refer you to a breast clinic for a mammogram, or other tests may be carried out,” says Dr Anne Bruinvels, founder of breast cancer app OWise.
WHAT IT INVOLVES: “Your mammogram will take place at a special clinic or a mobile breast screening unit. You will be asked to undress down to your waist, and your breasts will be X-rayed one at a time. The breast is placed on the X-ray machine and gently but firmly compressed by a plate to flatten it. Each breast will be X-rayed twice, one from above and one from the side,” explains Dr Bruinvels. The mammogram itself takes just a few minutes, and you’ll receive results within two weeks.
HOW OFTEN: Every three years according to Dr Bruinvels, but she also emphasises the importance of self-checking in-between scans. “This means knowing what your breasts normally feel like so you can easily identify any abnormalities associated with breast cancer. Checking your breasts once a month will keep you breast aware, and if you notice any changes you should contact your GP.”
WHY IT MATTERS: The only way to know if your blood pressure is high (or low) is to get it checked. “High blood pressure puts a strain on the major organs and increases the risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, heart attacks, heart failure, and strokes. Likewise, unusually low blood pressure can cause problems such as dizziness and fainting,” explains Dr Daniel Cichi, GP and Medical Advisor for Doctor 4 U.
HOW TO GET TESTED: “You can get tested at your GP surgery, and you don’t necessarily need a reason to get tested,” says Dr Cichi. “Your local pharmacy should also offer blood pressure monitoring, and you can also test from home. If you’re buying a monitor to use at home, ensure it’s UK-approved and from a trusted source. Monitoring your blood pressure at home can give you a better understanding of your blood pressure over a longer period of time as sometimes, in a medical setting, blood pressure can be high due to anxiety.”
WHAT IT INVOLVES: A blood pressure test is quick and painless. A device called a sphygmomanometer is used to take a blood pressure reading and this has an arm cuff attached which will be placed around your upper arm. The cuff is pumped up then slowly released in just a few seconds which may feel tight around your arm, this shouldn’t pain but may be slightly uncomfortable. The test provides a reading within seconds
HOW OFTEN: “If you’re fit and well and have normal blood pressure, get it checked every two years. You may need to get your blood pressure checked yearly if it’s borderline high. If you’re on the Pill, you should get tested at least every six months,” Dr Cichi advises.
WHY IT MATTERS: Although your body needs cholesterol to work properly, too much of some types of cholesterol can be harmful. Having a high cholesterol can cause narrowing of your blood vessels, leading to heart disease and stroke. Dr Michael Mosley, founder of The Fast 800, says 60% of British adults have excessively high cholesterol levels.
HOW TO GET TESTED: “As there are no obvious signs or symptoms of high cholesterol, a test is needed to check your levels,” explains Dr Mosley. “If you are a smoker; have a BMI of 30 or greater, or know high cholesterol levels run in your family, it’s worth getting tested. Age can also be a factor.” Dr Mosley says high cholesterol levels can be passed down through families, leading to familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH for short), which is an inherited condition. If left untreated, FH can result in heart disease at a young age.
WHAT IT INVOLVES: It’s a straightforward blood test, which will measure levels of triglycerides, LDL and HDL cholesterol as well as determining your risk of heart disease based on the ratio of HDL to total cholesterol.
HOW OFTEN: There are no rules, but if any of the above circumstances apply to you your GP may recommend regular testing.
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WHY IT MATTERS: “Looking after your eyes is so important as they provide one of your most vital senses,” says Dan McGhee from Vision Express. “Your eyes can also be a window into your health, and can inform about other conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, brain tumours, aneurysms and arthritis.”
HOW TO GET TESTED: Book an appointment at your local optometrist.
WHAT IT INVOLVES: Before seeing your optometrist, you’ll have an eye health screening, which will include a check for any underlying eye conditions, as well as wider health issues such as diabetes – be sure to inform them of any medication you’re taking. “A number of tools and technology will then be used to check your eyes, including checking the accuracy of your sight through the classic Snellen Chart, which has a series of letters in different sizes. Your optometrist will also check the pressure inside your eyes (which can indicate glaucoma), see if you have any blind spots, and ascertain your prescription by gauging the eye’s focusing power and how it processes light. Your optometrist will also take a photo of the back of your eye, which is kept on record and referred back to in subsequent appointments,” says Dan.
HOW OFTEN: Dan recommends visiting the optician at least once every two years, but if you notice a change in your vision then book in sooner.
WHY IT MATTERS: If statistics are anything to go by, the number of people affected by an STI is on the rise, with nearly 500,000 diagnosed yearly across the UK. With symptoms that are tricky to recognise – if there are any at all – many of us remain in the dark when it comes to knowing how to spot an STI. If left untreated, some STIs can cause long-term damage and even affect fertility.
HOW TO GET TESTED: Marlena Segar, sex and relationships educator at We Are HPG says, “You can book an appointment with your GP or local sexual health clinic. Alternatively, you can order an at-home test kit for free from SH:24, while some pharmacies such as Superdrug sell similar testing kits for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, both in store and online.”
WHAT IT INVOLVES: While there are over 30 known STIs, a standard screening will test for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV and syphilis, says Marlena. “Testing for chlamydia and gonorrhoea involves either a urine sample or vaginal swab, and HIV and syphilis testing is done via a blood sample. If you are presenting possible symptoms or have been informed by a partner of their positive result, you should be able to get a same day appointment. Possible symptoms include irregular discharge, itching, burning while you pee or blisters around your genitals. These symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have an STI but are worth checking to be sure so you can receive any necessary treatment as quickly as possible. If you have any blisters, a doctor will likely take a swab of the blister to check for HSV-1 and HSV-2 (herpes simplex virus).”
HOW OFTEN: Marlena says everyone should get tested regularly, even those in long-term monogamous relationships. “Getting tested isn’t an indication that your relationship is unstable but as some STIs can lie dormant for extended periods of time, regular check-ups are still recommended. A regular test is considered to be once every three to six months, or after every new sexual partner.” she advises.
It can be tricky at the moment to know what to do if you’re unwell or have a concern about your health. Remember to speak to your GP if you notice anything unusual and keep any procedures or appointments you have booked, unless you’re told not to go. For more information read the NHS’ official advice on getting medical assistance during the pandemic.
DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.