The 7 health checks we delay

Putting off your skin, eye, breast or prostate health check could increase your risk of developing irremediable conditions, says a leading Australian doctor.

Dr Chandra Bala, a leading ophthalmologist with Australia’s largest network of eye clinics, PersonalEYES, is concerned by the number of Parramatta residents putting off personal health check-ups.

He says: “What we’ve found is that there are two types of people who delay their health checks: those who get caught up in their busy lifestyles and don’t prioritise time for it, and those who are afraid of what the results might reveal. We know that Parramatta residents with family histories or previously diagnosed conditions tend to be the most diligent about check ups, but for most it’s a case of ‘due tomorrow, do tomorrow’.

“Prevention is the best cure for many diseases or conditions, and once you’ve had a check up, in most cases you don’t need to worry about them for another year or more.”

In addition, research by comparethemarket.com.au shows that many Australians are covered for these checks through Private Health Insurance, if not through Medicare (see table below for more information).

Dr Bala reveals the top 7 health checks that Aussies delay, and the reasons why we shouldn’t:

  1. Skin cancer check. It’s important to know the skin you are in.  If you have a mole, freckle, mark or blemish that has changed colour, shape or size, you should ask your healthcare professional to take a look at it because the sooner any type of skin cancer is detected and treated, the better the outcome will be. Skin cancer is caused from exposure to UV radiation and anyone is susceptible, not just the fair-skinned. The Cancer Council says Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, with two in three developing some form of it before the age of 70.
  1. Dental check and clean. Australians need to have regular dental checks and cleans, and the frequency for check ups depends on the individual – it could be every six months, or once a year.  Dental care can reverse and prevent gum disease such as gingivitis and periodontitis, and according to PersonalEYES, heart disease can be more prevalent in Australians with poor oral hygiene as they are less likely to take care of themselves.  Furthermore, dental issues can severely affect your quality of life by restricting or limiting your ability to eat and sleep.   
  1. Eye exams and checks. A quick and simple eye test can protect you from permanent and irreversible vision loss.  Our eyes are one of the first areas of the body to reveal existing health conditions. Not only does an eye exam check for refractive errors, it can also determine if an underlying medical condition is causing eye issues. Regardless of your age and physical health, eye checks are one of the most important things you can do to take care of your body because in most cases eye diseases do not reveal visible symptoms in the early stages.  A visit to your local optometrist can leave you free to go on with your day in as little as 30 minutes but if you have previously been diagnosed with conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, diabetes, hypertension, renal disease, or are taking cortisone, your GP can organise a referral to an Ophthalmologist, at an eye clinic like PersonalEYES.

“We have such excellent care in Australia so it is heart breaking to see a patient who presents late with a condition that could have easily been treated, especially a condition such as glaucoma,” says Dr Bala.

  1. General blood test. Like many other conditions, early stages of many diseases might go unnoticed due to little or no symptoms. A general blood test can help cover your bases since it can look for nutritional deficiencies, cancer markers, thyroid conditions, liver and kidney conditions, cholesterol and diabetes. More than one in two Australian adults have elevated cholesterol and a simple blood test can reveal whether you’re at risk, and help you work with your healthcare professional on solutions.    
  1. Blood glucose levels test.  Diabetes is the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia, with an estimated 280 Australians developing this condition daily. A simple blood test can identify whether this condition is present in the body. However, if you have a fear of needles, an eye check can potentially show undiagnosed diabetes since the eyes are a window to sugar levels in the body being out of control.   
  1. Pap test and breast examination. Pap tests might be daunting for some women but it’s important not to delay them. It checks for changes to the cells of a woman’s cervix and an abnormal result doesn’t necessarily spell cancer. The other check-up women should look at doing regularly is a breast examination or mammogram because early detection can improve the chances of successful treatment.
  1. Prostate check. Prostate cancer is one of the biggest health concerns for men and while it is more prevalent in older Australians, it can be diagnosed at any age.  Men over 30 are advised to be checked and while there isn’t a single test to detect prostate cancer, your GP can do an examination or – if warranted – a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test.  

This information is a guide only, please discuss your individual medical needs with a qualified healthcare professional.

Health checks covered by Private Health Insurance according to comparethemarket.com.au

Type of checkWhat’s covered
Skin cancer checkSome health funds cover skin cancer screenings or Cancer Council products
Dental check and cleanMost health funds cover dental check ups, scale and cleans, and up to a certain extent for fluoride treatments and x-rays
Eye exams and checksMedicare pays benefits towards this and extras cover with private health insurance providers includes glasses and contacts
General blood testExtras cover with private health insurance providers will not cover this but Medicare pays benefits towards this
Blood glucose levels testExtras cover with private health insurance providers will not cover this but Medicare pays benefits towards this
Pap testExtras cover with private health insurance providers will not cover this but Medicare pays benefits towards this
Breast examinationSome health funds cover mammograms and breast checks (x-rays) up to a certain extent
Prostate checkMedicare pays benefits towards this