The secret to good health isn’t a magic pill – it’s prevention. Here, Michael
Chapman, public health expert and founder of My Health Pledge, explains the four screenings we need to stay ahead of illness. Did you know that 38 per cent of Australia’s disease burden is entirely preventable? Yet almost half of us are living with one or more chronic health condition, with 13 per cent of our lives spent in poor health.
It’s a cliché, but it’s true: prevention is better than cure, and will give you the best chance of facing any health battle head on. This is something My Health Pledge ambassador Jen Byles knows first-hand.
At just 37 years old, Byles, who had always lived an active, healthy lifestyle, was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer despite having no family history. Thinking nothing of the sharp pain she felt in her left breast in late 2021, it wasn’t until 2022 that Byles headed to the GP, months after detecting a lump. Byles is currently battling metastatic breast cancer and is encouraging all Australians not to stall when it comes to routine health checks. Early detection is key, and could e the one thing that gives you a fighting chance.
“If you’re a woman over 40, a mother, sister, aunt, or friend, challenge them to make a Health Pledge and get screened,” Byles urged in an Instagram post earlier this year. “If you’re under 40, like me, it’s important to learn the symptoms of breast cancer, check yourself regularly and make sure to discuss this with your GP.”
Here are the health checks to priorities today to help you live a longer, healthier life.
1. Skin Checks
Days spent under the sun and by the surf may be synonymous with the Australian lifestyle, but you can’t escape the fact that the nation has one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world. Two out of three Australians will be diagnosed by the age of 70, and 2000 lives will be lost to this largely preventable disease. The earlier skin cancer is detected, the more likely it can be treated. So, on top of monthly at-home skin checks, where you scan your body from head to toe, it’s also a good idea to visit your GP once a year for a professional check. If you have high-risk skin (fair or freckled, a history of skin cancer or sun damage and lots of moles), some GPs may want to screen you every six months. If you notice anything suspicious (a spot that changes in texture, shape, color or becomes itchy and bleeds) between check-ins, head to your GP right away.
2. Breast Screenings
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Australian women, with more than 20,000 Australians diagnosed every year. Every woman should check their breasts once a month, looking for any lumps, changes in texture, color or appearance, and any pain or tenderness. Remember to check the area around your breast all the way up to the armpit.
For women aged 40 and over, head to a local breast screen center for a free mammogram every two years (these screens are free in Australia, for other countries check with you GP). Remember early detection increases survival rates. If you notice anything suspicious in your breasts, book an appointment with your GP. Breast cancer can occur at any age, regardless of family history, so it is vital to be seen.
3. Mental Health Check-In
As a result of Covid and rising cost of living pressures, the mental health of
many of us has been significantly impacted. It’s easy to think you can get up and carry on, but take a moment to get real with yourself about how you’re truly feeling and coping. Schedule a regular chat with a friend, commit to a meditation practice or book in to see a psychologist. Your GP can also perform a mental health assessment and work out a plan for you, and you can assess yourself via the mental health check-in tools over at Beyond Blue and the Black Dog Institute.
4. Routine Bloodwork
If you haven’t had a blood test in a while, ask your GP for a general check and try to do this once a year, especially if you’re over 50. Your doctor will likely order a Full Blood Count, which helps check for nutritional deficiencies, infection and immune disorders. Your cholesterol levels should also be tested, as high cholesterol is a major player in the development of heart disease. A Comprehensive Metabolic Panel and thyroid test can also be run, as this can help identify underlying conditions.
About Michael Chapman
Michael Chapman has worked in the public health and nutrition space for over a decade. He created My Health Pledge, a new initiative designed to help Australian prevent disease through behavioral change and action. To make a pledge, simply visit their website here, enter your information, share your pledge and encourage others to do the same.