Even if you’re a fairly healthy woman who eats well and gets some exercise, you probably think about your health from time to time — maybe more often.
Depending on your lifestyle, family history, and age, there are several important health screening tests to take or at least discuss with a doctor to make sure you’re physically in tip-top shape. Here are a few:
Pap Smear: How Often?
Women at least 21 years old need to have a Pap smear, which is a procedure that collects cells from the cervix to test for cervical cancer. Even if you don’t have cancer, a Pap can spot abnormal cervical cells that raises a red flag for cancer in the future. Early detection is key.
For women 30 and over, in conjunction with your Pap test, you should also ask about getting tested for human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infection known to cause cervical cancer. When to get these tests done may depend on your history, and the timing can be confusing, so be sure to have the conversation with your doctor.
“If you’ve had several normal Paps in a row and a negative human-papillomavirus (HPV) test, get tested every other year,” according to an article in Real Simple. “If you’re a smoker, have multiple sexual partners, began having intercourse at a young age, are HIV-positive, or have a sexually transmitted disease, have a Pap annually.”
However, the Mayo Clinic’s website says Pap testing can be done every three years for healthy women ages 21 to 65, and every five years if the Pap is combined with HPV testing. The point is, every patient is different and your doctor may have a specific recommendation for you.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Your Pap smear appointment is a good opportunity to ask your doctor to do a similar cervical swab to check for STDs, including gonorrhea and chlamydia. Even if you show no symptoms of an STD or have not had a new sexual partner, it’s wise to get checked not only at your Pap exam but annually. If you do have a new sexual partner, you should get checked for STDS every three to six months (this includes men). Also, get checked if you’re trying to get pregnant, engage in unprotected sex, have a new partner, unusual vaginal discharge, irregular bleeding or pain during intercourse.
U.S. health guidelines released in 2016 recommend that women ages 50 to 74 get screened for breast cancer every two years. However, women in their 40s should get their doctors’ advice to determine if a mammogram— an X-ray of the breast tissue — is needed before the recommended age of 50. The guidelines also suggest that women in their 40s should make a decision to receive mammograms every two years after talking about their individual risk factors with their doctors.
Don’t put off talking to your doctor if you are experiencing prolonged sadness, emotional problems or anxiety. You might have clinical depression, a serious mental condition, or you might have an underlying medical problem contributing to depression. A physical exam can rule out an underlying medical condition such as hypothyroidism or a vitamin D deficiency. Central nervous system illnesses and certain drugs can also contribute to depression. The only way to figure out what’s going on is to talk to your doctor about potential causes. A blood test can help determine if there are hormonal imbalances that need addressed, for example.
A Tuberculosis Test?
TB may not be on the health radar as much anymore in the U.S., but at one point in history, tuberculosis was one the the deadliest diseases in our country. Still, a World Health Organization report in 2015 stated that TB was one of the “top five killers of women” between ages 20-59 with over 480,000 deaths in 2014.
Modern medicine has given us ways to treat and prevent mass outbreaks of this airborne disease that attacks the lungs. Today, screening tests are not performed on everyone who walks into the doctor’s office, but on those who are at somewhat of an increased risk, such as at work or school.
Harvard Medical School Doctor Anthony L. Komaroff said screening tests are typically given to:
- People who have been in close contact with others who have an active TB infection
- People who’ve lived in parts of the world where TB is much more common than in the U.S.
- People who work in prisons and homeless shelters
- People with weakened immune systems, including diabetics, long-term smokers, and people with certain kinds of cancer and people infected with HIV
- Healthcare workers
There are two types of TB tests — the traditional TB skin test and a TB blood test. If you’re required to take a test for work or school, you may find that you’ll be asked to get the blood test done because it’s more accurate, less painful and more efficient.
There are many regular screenings that can save a woman’s life. We can all make time for healthy eating, stress management and regular exercise, but we can take it a step beyond with early detection tests.