Pop quiz: Should patients take aspirin to prevent a first heart attack or stroke? Is it a good idea to get a screening for carotid artery stenosis? What age should most people start getting colorectal cancer screenings?
The answers, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) as of October 2023: It depends, no, and 45 years old.
Did you get all those questions right? If so, congratulations! If not, you could hardly be blamed. The USPSTF updated all those guidelines within the last three years—when health systems were focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people likely still have in mind the preventive care advice they got in the previous decade.
The good news: As a healthcare marketer, you still have plenty of opportunities to get the word out about the changes. By updating your website content, publishing a blog post, or reaching out on social media, you’ll not only reinforce your authority as a trustworthy partner in your audiences’ health. You’ll also encourage visits to your health system.
Let’s review those previously mentioned recommendations in detail and explore a few other changes that might need more attention.
Some Preventive Care Guidelines That Have Changed Since 2020
If your organization’s website includes information about the following topics, take a moment to make sure the content is up to date—if you haven’t already.
Starting Aspirin Use to Prevent a First Heart Attack or Stroke
In April 2022, the USPSTF published a final recommendation on aspirin use [PDF] to prevent heart disease and stroke, also known as cardiovascular disease (CVD). People ages 40 to 59 who are at higher risk for CVD and don’t have a history of CVD should decide with their healthcare professional whether to start taking aspirin to prevent a first heart attack or stroke. People aged 60 or older shouldn’t start taking aspirin to prevent a first heart attack or stroke.
Colorectal Cancer Screening Starting Age
In May 2021, the USPSTF published a final recommendation on screening for colorectal cancer [PDF]. The Task Force now recommends that screenings start at age 45. (See how one health system found a funny, effective way to get the word out about this age change.) The Task Force continues to strongly recommend screening people who are 50 to 75 years old. For adults 76 to 85, the Task Force continues to recommend that the decision to screen be made on an individual basis.
These final recommendations all apply to adults who don’t have:
- Symptoms of colorectal cancer
- Personal history of colorectal polyps
- Personal or family health history of genetic disorders that increase the risk of colorectal cancer
Lung Cancer Screening
People ages 50 to 80 should get a yearly screening using a low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan if they’re at high risk for lung cancer due to their smoking history.
In this final recommendation issued March 2021 [PDF], the Task Force made two changes that nearly doubled the number of people eligible for lung cancer screening:
- The Task Force now recommends that people start screening at age 50, rather than 55.
- This recommendation reduces the pack-years of smoking history that make someone eligible for screening from 30 pack years to 20. (Twenty pack years could mean one pack of cigarettes per day for 20 years or two packs per day for 10 years.)
Carotid Artery Stenosis Screening
Screening for carotid artery stenosis isn’t recommended in people without signs of a blocked artery in the neck, the USPSTF said in February 2021.
This final recommendation [PDF] applies to adults without a history of stroke, a transient ischemic attack, or other stroke symptoms. The screenings don’t prevent strokes for these adults, but healthy lifestyle choices do. So, advise your audiences to:
- Control high blood pressure and cholesterol
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Stay physically active
- Eat a healthy diet
- Avoid smoking
Cervical Cancer Screening
In July 2020, the American Cancer Society made two major changes to its cervical cancer screening guidelines for people at average risk of the disease. One is to start screening at a slightly older age, and the other is to preferentially recommend a type of screening called an HPV test. The society now says:
- Cervical cancer testing (screening) should begin at age 25.
- Those aged 25 to 65 should have a primary HPV test every five years. If primary HPV testing is not available, screening may be done with either a co-test that combines an HPV test with a Pap test every five years or a Pap test alone every three years.
(The USPSTF is in in the process of updating its cervical cancer screening recommendations.)
Hepatitis C Screening
In March 2020, the USPSTF announced it recommends screening all adults ages 18 to 79 for hepatitis C [PDF]. Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver and is associated with more deaths than the top 60 other reportable infectious diseases combined. Yet many people who have hepatitis C don’t know they have it. Screening is key to finding this infection early when it’s easier to treat and cure.
Advise patients to ask their doctors about this simple blood test at their next checkup.
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