Health screening tests are important for every woman. They can help detect problems with bone mineral density such as osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, and other conditions in the earliest stages when they can be treated most effectively. Exams can detect abnormalities before symptoms are apparent. The types of tests a woman needs depend on her age, personal and family health history, and specific risk factors. Certain tests are recommended for every woman while others are individualized depending on additional risk factors.
Catch breast cancer early
Breast cancer is most treatable when caught in the earliest stages. In general, the smaller the tumor, the less likely it is to spread to organs or lymph nodes. The American Cancer Society recommends that women in their 20s and 30s have a clinical breast exam (CBE) by a health-care professional about every three years and an exam every year for women who are 40 years of age and above. A clinical breast exam does not replace breast cancer screening by mammography.
Mammography is a low-dose X-ray test that may help find a small malignancy at the earliest stages when it is still very treatable. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends a baseline mammogram for all women by age 40 and yearly mammograms for women 40 and older for as long as they are in good health.
In certain women (those with “lumpy breasts” or breast symptoms, or women with a high risk of developing breast cancer,) sometimes a baseline or first mammogram at 35 years of age is recommended. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends against routine mammography screening for women before 50 years of age and suggests that screening end at 74 years of age. The USPSTF suggests that women between the ages of 50 and 74 have a mammogram every 2 years. Women who have certain risk factors for breast cancer may be advised to follow a different health screening schedule.
Get checked for cervical cancer
With regular Pap smears, cervical cancer is easy to prevent. The cervix is a narrow passageway between the uterus (where a baby grows) and the vagina (the birth canal). Pap smears find abnormal cells on the cervix, which can be removed before they ever turn into cancer. The main cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV), a type of STD.
During a Pap smear, the physician takes a scraping of cells from the cervix. The cells are analyzed in a laboratory. The sample can be checked for human papilloma virus which causes cervical malignancies. Other kinds of testing that can be performed at the time of pelvic examination include tests that can also detect gonorrhea and chlamydia. A woman should be tested for those annually if she is sexually active. Certain STIs increase the potential for health problems in unborn babies, so expectant mothers should be tested for these infections and treated if they test positive for them.
Consider the HPV Vaccine
There are two vaccines available for the prevention of certain types of HPV infection. Gardasil and Cervarix protect against certain strains of the virus associated with malignancy. There are over 100 types of HPV; not all of them are capable of infecting the genital tract and of those that can cause genital infection, not all cause cervical cancer. The vaccines do not confer complete protection against all strains of HPV, so it is important for patients to continue to get Pap smears according to the schedule outlined by the physician. Discuss the potential risks and benefits of vaccination with a healthcare professional.
Watch out for osteoporosis
Osteoporosis causes weak, fragile bones that are prone to fractures. The condition is more common as women age and lose bone mass. Sometimes, the first symptom of osteoporosis may be a bone break after a relatively minor fall or blow. At least half of all bone breaks in women over the age of 50 are due to osteoporosis. Approximately 25 of bone breaks in men over the age of 50 are due to the condition. Women over the age of 50 should discuss having a bone mineral density test with their doctor and those age 65 or older should have the test at least once.
A dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) is a test that measures bone strength. It is also called a bone mineral density test. This screening test is recommended for all women over the age of 65. It may be recommended for women who are younger who may be predisposed to low bone mineral density or bone breaks. More vulnerable populations may include those who have chronic kidney disease, an eating disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, low body weight, early menopause, the physically inactive or other conditions. Results of the test can indicate the presence of osteoporosis before bone breaks occur.
High blood pressure screening
Blood pressure (BP) increases with age. It is associated with cardiovascular disease risks along with other risk factors like diabetes, increased waist circumference, high LDL, and high triglycerides. High blood pressure is associated with increased potential for heart attack and stroke. Everyone should be screened for high blood pressure, which can damage the kidneys, eyes, and other organs. An ideal BP is less than 120/80 mm Hg. Adults over the age of 20 should have a blood pressure assessment about every 2 years. If a woman has heart health risks, her doctor may want to screen her for high blood pressure more frequently.
Blood pressure is a combination of two different numbers. The top number is called the systolic pressure. It represents the pressure in the blood vessels during a heartbeat. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure. It represents the pressure in the blood vessels between heartbeats. A value of 120/80 mm Hg is considered a healthy value. Values between 120/80 mm Hg and 139/89 are considered to represent prehypertension. It is an early stage that signals that high blood pressure may develop. Blood pressure readings of up to 140/90 mm Hg or greater are high. Wellness community clinics, centres, and even some pharmacies have free blood pressure screening. These resources are available to everyone.
Cholesterol level screening
Cholesterol is a fatty molecule that is present in the blood. Some amount is necessary to maintain health, but levels that are too high increase the potential for hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Excess blood lipids can clog blood vessels in the arteries, leading to an eventual heart attack or stroke. Along with increased body mass index, smoking, diabetes, and other factors, high blood lipids are associated with the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Blood lipid panels should be a part of every woman’s wellness health screenings.
• Culled from www.medicinenet.com
…To be continued next week