For Women: Which Screening Tests Do You Need?
From mammograms to cholesterol tests, the appropriate screenings for women couldn’t be more crucial. Screening tests can catch an illness before you see signs, which will allow for treatment to start early when it matters most. Your lifestyle, health record and family history help determine what tests you need. Only you and your doctor know what’s best for you.
Mammogram and breast exam
Mammograms can detect cancerous tumors up to two years before a lump can be felt. Although mammograms can detect tumors, they still may miss some. And some mammogram results may lead to biopsies that find no cancer. If you feel a lump and your mammogram is normal, tell your provider. The lump could have cancer in it. Although a breast self-exam each month can help a woman find changes in her breasts and bring them to the attention of her doctor, your best chance of detecting breast cancer is getting both a clinical breast exam and a mammogram.
Pap test and pelvic exam
During a Pap test, doctors take cells from the cervix to look for early warning signs of cancer. The cervix is a cylinder-shaped opening at the bottom of the uterus (also known as the womb). The cervix forms a connection between the vagina and the uterus. Cancer of the cervix in its early stages may cause no symptoms at all, and therefore regular PAP tests are important. A woman should get her first PAP test within three years of becoming sexually active, and no later than age 21. After that, she should have one at least every three years, according to guidelines by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). A woman older than 65 does not need regular Pap tests, particularly if she has had normal PAP tests in the past and is not in a high-risk group for cervical cancer. Most women who have had their uterus removed for noncancer reasons do not need a Pap test, if their cervix was removed at the same time as the uterus was removed. Although other screening methods for cervical cancer are available, the USPSTF considers the PAP test to be the best way to pick up this type of cancer.
Sexually transmitted disease tests
If you’re sexually active, you should be screened for sexually transmitted diseases. Sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) are infections that can be spread by having sex. STD’s can be caught by especially vaginal intercourse, anal sex, and oral sex.
This is even more true if you’ve had multiple partners and if any of them has had multiple partners. The most common STD is chlamydia. Chlamydia that is left untreated can lead to problems getting pregnant as well as other health problems in the mother or the baby. Other STD’s include gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV (which can cause AIDS), HPV (which can lead to certain kinds of cancer), herpes, and hepatitis B (a liver infection).
Type 2 diabetes is when you have high blood sugar because of not being able to respond well to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps blood sugar to be used in your body for energy. In type 2 diabetes, the level of blood sugar rises because your body can’t respond normally to insulin. When this happens, the blood sugar builds up in the blood instead of being stored for energy. Diabetes type 2 affects 34.2 million Americans, 12.8 million of them being women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A lot of women get diabetes in middle age or older, but it’s rising in the young. African American, Hispanic/Latinx, American Indian and Asian/Pacific Islander women are two to four times more likely to develop diabetes than Caucasian women. Besides being a member of these racial or ethnic groups, the risks for developing type 2 diabetes are age, obesity, lack of physical activity and a family history of the disease. It occurs more frequently in women who have had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or in women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (a hormonal problem of the egg cells in the body), high blood pressure, high cholesterol, impaired glucose tolerance (high blood sugar even after fasting.) The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends getting tested for type 2 diabetes every three years beginning at age 45 if you are at average risk for diabetes. If you have any of the risk factors listed above or if you are overweight or obese — overweight: body mass index (BMI) is 25 to 29; obese: BMI is 30 or more — you should be tested at an earlier age or more frequently.
Heart disease screening
Obesity, high blood pressure, high-fat diets and diabetes can lead to heart disease, the top killer of U.S. women. And women may not recognize their heart attack symptoms. Women are more likely than men to experience indigestion, breathing trouble or muscle pain instead of the classic, spreading chest pain. The USPSTF recommends that all adults ages 18 and older be screened regularly for high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is less than 120 systolic (the top number) and less than 80 diastolic (the bottom number), you should be screened every two years. If either number is higher than that, or if you have other risk factors for heart disease (such as high cholesterol or diabetes), you should get your blood pressure checked more often. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends that all adults over the age of 20 have their cholesterol measured once every five years. Total cholesterol should be 200mg/dL or less. Also, the LDL (bad cholesterol) should be less than 100mg/dL and HDL (good cholesterol) should be higher than 40 mg/dL (the higher the better). Eating healthy foods and regular exercise can increase the amount of good cholesterol in your body. Talk to your health care provider to find out when you should begin screening.
Bone density test
Women start with less bone mass than men. After menopause, women are at higher risk for rapid bone loss, which may lead to osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). Osteoporosis can cause the bones to break more easily. The best way to screen for osteoporosis is with a bone density test. The USPSTF recommends that women ages 65 and older should receive a bone density test to screen regularly for osteoporosis. If you have other risk factors for osteoporosis (such as being underweight or a smoker), you should be screened beginning at age 60.
Partnering with your doctor is key
Your primary care physician can work with you to ensure you are receiving the right screenings at the right time. To find a physician who is right for you, visit the Find a Doctor feature at brownandtoland.com.
If you are enrolled in Medicare Advantage, you are entitled to a free annual health assessment, a yearly check-in where your provider will recommend the health screenings you need as part of a personalized plan to keep you healthy, safe and independent.
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