If you are like many women, you may hesitate to go the doctor. First, there's the "I don't wanna" factor; few people enjoy hopping up on the paper-covered exam table or, worse, getting weighed. Second, there's the issue of cost: While the Affordable Care Act has made health care more affordable for many, most patients still have copays or deductibles to meet when having medical procedures and tests done. Still, in order to remain healthy, it's important to see your doctor regularly. Not sure what that entails? Read on for a guide to the health screenings you might be forgetting about.
Most women should see their doctor every year for a baseline checkup. This is when you see your primary care physician for a once-over that includes checking your blood pressure and heart rate, a glimpse in your ears and throat, a knock on your knees to check your reflexes and a feel around your abdomen. The blood pressure test, in particular, is important, because high blood pressure, also called hypertension, can lead to a heart attack or stroke even if it has never caused any other symptoms.
You'll probably also be asked to produce a urine sample and have blood drawn for a complete blood count (CBC) and any other tests that the doctor feels is necessary. Women over 45, as well as younger women who have risk factors for diabetes, should have a blood glucose test done. This test can detect diabetes, a serious disease that can cause blindness, kidney disease, infections and death.
While the golden standard used to be yearly pap tests, the American Cancer Society, along with other organizations, now recommends that pap smears be done every three to five years. Even better is having an HPV (human papillomavirus) test done along with the pap smear; since most cervical cancer is caused by HPV, this "double whammy" test will detect not only precancerous cells in the cervix, but also the virus that can cause the precancerous (and later, cancerous) cells in the first place.
Your doctor might recommend more frequent screenings, and in this case the ACS does not agree with the extra caution. Because false positives are common, the organization explains, you could be at greater risk from having unnecessary follow-up procedures done than you would be from having abnormal cells on your cervix for an additional couple of years. This is something to talk to your physician about.
Skin Cancer Screening
Hopefully you regularly put on sunscreen to protect your skin not only from premature aging, but also from skin cancer. Since skin cancer often starts out as changes in existing moles or the formation of new ones, it's wise to perform monthly self-exams of your skin. If you aren't sure what to look for, however, or if you find a mole that looks suspicious, making an appointment with a dermatologist is vital.
During your appointment, the doctor will check your skin from head to toe (including under your nail beds and the areas that are often difficult to see) can can biopsy any moles that look suspicious. If they are cancerous, you will most likely need mole removal; skin cancer is very treatable if it is caught early.
In addition to these tests, women over 40 should receive mammograms and those over 50 should have colon cancer screenings. Bone density tests can detect osteoporosis, and they normally begin after a woman turns 65. While it might seem inconvenient to have these tests done as you get older, they are essential parts of your health care. The risks of cancer go up as you age, so the frequency and number of cancer screenings need to increase as well.
Talk to your doctor about the health screenings you need at various ages and be sure to follow your physician's advice, as your needs might differ from those of the average woman.