Women lead busy lives. Many function in multiple roles in caring for their families every day including chauffer, chief executive, banker, scheduler, professional organizer, and cook. Taking care of yourself can seem like a extravagant luxury. I am here to share that visiting your healthcare providers for regular screenings can save you time and money in the long run. Not to mention keeping you in good health so you can continue to juggle all of those responsibilities without getting run down.
Women’s Health Week begins on May 14, Mother’s Day. It is a great time to remind your mom and the other women in your life (even yourself) to schedule a check-up.
Below are the health screening exams and scheduling guidelines recommended for women. Screening needs can change based on a number of risk factors, including family history and behaviors, so be sure to ask your healthcare provider about recommendations specifically for you and your situation.
Breast self-exam (BSE): After a girl has been menstruating for a year, she should begin doing monthly breast self-exams. It should become a regular habit and continue into adulthood, like brushing your teeth. Instructions for correctly performing the exam are available from your healthcare provider or on www.breastcancer.org.
PAP tests and HPV tests: Women who are 21 or older should have regular PAP and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) screenings. Either one can show early signs of possible cervical or other types of cancer. The CDC recommends that healthy women whose current PAP and HPV screenings are negative repeat the test in 3 years. There is now also a vaccine for HPV that is recommended for girls between the ages of 9 and 26.
Mammogram: A mammogram is the best existing detection method for breast cancer. Guidelines vary a little. The American Cancer Society recommends that women have screening mammograms starting at age 45, then annually until age 55 and every 2 years after that. Your healthcare provider may advise you to start a regular mammogram screening schedule at an earlier age if you are determined to be at higher risk.
Colonoscopy: Colon cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States. Luckily, a colonoscopy is very effective at finding colon cancer or polyps that could lead to colon cancer. Generally, women should begin getting colonoscopies at the age of 50 and every 5-10 years thereafter depending on the results . Again, your healthcare provider will advise you what schedule is best for you.
Blood Work: CBC/Cholesterol/Thyroid/Glucose (Blood Sugar): Regular screenings of your blood can also help detect illness before symptoms appear. A woman should have baseline lab work done before she turns 40 and then be rescreened annually, typically with her Primary Care Doctor.
Bone Scan: Women who have gone through menopause are at an increased risk for bones that are less dense and more fragile. Post-menopausal women should talk with their healthcare provider about regular bone scans to determine if they have osteoporosis, especially with risk factors such as smoking, or a family history.
Don’t be afraid to bring up any of these screening tests with your healthcare provider. His or her office can check your insurance coverage or refer you to the resources for financial assistance available to women.
Making a little bit time for health screenings in your busy schedule is truly the best thing you can do for your family and yourself. While they may disrupt your schedule in the short term, they relate to a better chance of health and wellbeing for years to come.
Dr. Malcolm Paine is a OB/GYN with SVMC OB/GYN in Bennington. He also provides OB/GYN services at SVMC Pownal Campus.