Five essential annual exams for women
One of the worst feelings after being diagnosed with a medical condition is wondering, could it have been prevented?
Understanding the importance of early detection is vital to your health because the most proactive way to stay healthy is by getting the treatment you need on time. From bone health to breast health, screenings can help prevent serious health issues and protect your overall well-being.
Heart Health Exams
Dr. Marlon Everett, a cardiologist at Advocate Trinity, recommends cardiovascular tests, including cholesterol and blood pressure, because they can detect a woman’s risk for diseases such as diabetes or heart attack. Depending on family history and lifestyle choices, women should start getting these screenings as early as 20 years old. “We’ve done an excellent job talking to women about breast cancer awareness, but heart disease is still the number one killer,” says Dr. Everett.
A mammogram and an X-ray image of your breast are used to screen for breast cancer and should be taken annually starting at age 40. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, about one in eight women will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime.
Pelvic exams include both external and internal visual exams. They can be useful for diagnosing many conditions and growths including fibroids, which can develop in high-risk African-American women as early as 30 years old. Fibroids can affect pregnancy, cause abdominal pain and produce other health risks. Most women are diagnosed with fibroids by the age of 50. Historically, hysterectomies were the only treatment for fibroids, but times have changed.
“Hysterectomy has always been the ultimate answer for fibroids,” says Dr. Steven Smith, an interventional radiologist at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago, who specializes in non-surgical options, such as uterine fibroid embolization, or shrinking of fibroids. “But a hysterectomy is not necessary for women getting close to menopause. The more we listen to patients and present alternative options to treat their fibroids, the better care they’re going to receive.”
Women should get a colonoscopy every five to ten years starting at age 50, or 45 for African Americans and high-risk individuals. The purpose of the test is to discover polyps and precancerous cells so they can be removed as quickly as possible. Colon cancer often has no symptoms, so physicians highly recommend these screenings. “Once you are 50 years old or older, your chances of dying from colon cancer become higher,” says Dr. Sakhie Hussain, medical director of the Endoscopy Center at Advocate Trinity. “But a colonoscopy is low-risk and low-cost and is known to prevent the causes of colon cancer.”
A pap smear helps to identify a woman’s risk for developing cervical cancer. An estimated 12,990 U.S. women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Pap smears allow doctors to make decisions about what further treatment might be needed if the test results are abnormal,” says Dr. Dakisha Lewis, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Advocate Trinity Hospital.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.