Screening Tests for Teens

Teenagers are one of the healthiest age groups, and most teens do not require extensive screening tests. Laboratory screening tests are used to detect signs of a disease or disorder. In most cases, screening tests are not ordered unless the doctor has reason to believe that a teenager might be at risk for a specific condition, such as a sexually transmitted disease, screening for prostate cancer, a respiratory condition, high cholesterol or diabetes. If a screening test produces a positive result, more tests, procedures or medications may be ordered to treat the condition.

Cervical Cancer and STDs

Protecting teens against sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, is one of the primary reasons a doctor will order a screening test. Once a teenage girl becomes sexually active, her risk of STDs like the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), chlamydia and gonorrhea increases. These diseases may have serious, life altering complications, including cervical cancer and infertility. The Pap smear is the most common test for cancerous changes in the cervix, or the neck of the uterus.

Pap smears are not recommended for teenage girls who do not have risk factors for cervical cancer or an STD. Because cervical cancer is not common in teenagers and a falsely negative test may lead to unnecessary treatment, a Pap test may not be advised unless a teen is sexually active, has a partner with genital warts, has HIV/AIDS or is a smoker. [1] During a Pap test, a sample of the cervical tissue is removed from the cervix and is tested for abnormal cellular changes that may indicate cancer. A routine gynecological exam without a Pap test may detect other problems, such as signs of an STD.

A doctor may recommend that teenage girls be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea every year if they are sexually active. Because the risk of contracting these bacterial infections is high among teens, screening may also be recommended when a teenage girl has a new sex partner. Chlamydia and gonorrhea screening for teenage boys is not usually recommended unless they have signs or symptoms of an STD, or if they have a partner who has tested positive.

Diabetes and High Cholesterol

The incidence of Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol are increasing among teens in the US. Being overweight or obese, leading a sedentary lifestyle and having a family history of Type 2 diabetes can increase a teen’s risk of developing this disease. Early detection of Type 2 diabetes is important, as developing this condition at an early age creates a higher risk for permanent damage to the blood vessels, nerves and organs.

Testing for Type 2 diabetes involves blood tests to check glucose levels in order to confirm whether the body is producing enough insulin or responding properly to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the body’s use of glucose, a form of sugar that your body uses for energy. If early signs of diabetes are detected, the condition may be corrected through dietary changes and exercise. Oral medication and insulin replacement may be recommended if blood sugar can’t be managed through lifestyle modifications.

High cholesterol can compromise the health of a teenager’s cardiovascular system. When cholesterol, a fatty material, builds up in the bloodstream, this substance can form hardened areas called plaques on the arteries, the large blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart. Cholesterol screening is not typically recommended for teens unless they have risk factors like a family history of high cholesterol, are overweight or obese, have diabetes or have a diet that’s high in fat and cholesterol. Early screening tests for teens can protect teens’ health and help them avoid chronic disease in adulthood.