The Lifesaving Benefits of Annual Blood ScreeningMay 2005
By Penny Baron
Cardio C-Reactive Protein (high sensitivity)
Inflammation is a pathogenic mechanism for development and progression of atherosclerosis and heart disease, as well as other disorders such as arthritis, cancer, and autoimmune conditions. C-reactive protein (CRP) is a very sensitive marker of systemic inflammation, and has emerged as a powerful predictor of coronary heart disease and other diseases of the cardiovascular system.23
Elevated levels of CRP have also been associated with the risk for developing type II diabetes,24 loss of cognitive ability in seemingly healthy people,25 and major depression in men.26
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in January 2005 found that among patients who were given statin drugs to lower cholesterol, those who achieved lower CRP levels had better clinical outcomes than those with higher CRP levels. The investigators concluded, “strategies to lower cardiovascular risk with statins should include monitoring CRP as well as cholesterol.”27
The highly sensitive cardio CRP test measures C-reactive protein in the blood at very early stages of vascular disease, allowing for appropriate intervention with diet, supplements, or anti-inflammatory therapy. The cardio CRP test detects much smaller levels of inflammation than the regular CRP test, so is therefore able to identify at-risk patients earlier, even among apparently healthy persons.
A review of epidemiological data found that high-sensitivity cardio CRP was able to predict risk of incident myocardial infarction, stroke, peripheral arterial disease, and sudden cardiac death among healthy individuals with no history of cardiovascular disease, and predict recurrent events and death in patients with acute or stable coronary syndromes. This inflammatory marker provided prognostic information that was independent of other measures of risk such as cholesterol level, metabolic syndrome, and high blood pressure. Greater levels of cardio CRP are associated with higher cardiovascular risk.28 High-sensitivity CRP testing also reveals systemic inflammation that is associated with disease activity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.29
Prostate-Specific Antigen (Male Panel Only)
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a protein manufactured by the cells of the prostate gland in men. Elevated PSA levels can suggest benign prostatic enlargement, prostate inflammation, or prostate cancer. Measurement of PSA levels is thus a screening tool. PSA may also be used to monitor progression of prostate disease and response to treatment.
The PSA test has been widely used since the early 1990s. During that time, the prostate cancer death rate has dropped. The American Cancer Society recommends annual PSA testing beginning at age 50. Men who are at high risk should begin PSA testing at age 40-45. PSA levels go up with age, even in the absence of prostate abnormalities.30
PSA velocity is the change in PSA values over time. It is determined by monitoring PSA values over the course of one or more years. PSA values that increase dramatically over time suggest that cancer may be present and a biopsy should be considered.31
A recent study demonstrated that PSA levels tend to be lower in obese men than in men of normal weight. As a result, physicians may not suspect prostate enlargement or cancer in heavier men, and these conditions may go undetected. Therefore, physicians must be particularly diligent when screening heavier men for prostate conditions. A digital rectal exam may be used as an additional screening tool along with PSA testing.32
The Male and Female Panel discussed above can be your best defense against a range of degenerative diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, immune disorders, blood abnormalities and inflammation. Armed with these annual lab findings, you can take timely and critical steps to prevent many of the diseases associated with aging.
Penny Baron is a retrovirologist at a New York City hospital. She holds masters degrees in microbiology and clinical nutrition.
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