When it comes down to your health, it is better to prevent an illness rather than treat it but prevention isn’t always foolproof. In that case, it is easier to treat a condition if it’s caught early on and regular visits to the doctor are always the best way to monitor your health and stay ahead of potential issues. There are a handful of essential exams for women (e.g. breast exam, pelvic exam, skin exam, etc.) that help protect against common health problems that regularly affect women.
Most of these exams become more essential as women age but a history of family issues may result in a doctor making a recommendation that you are tested at an earlier age.
Let’s break it down by essential exam:
Although one in eight women are estimated to develop breast cancer in their lifetime, the majority of breast cancer cases are treatable if they’re caught early enough. Breast exams are recommended for women between the ages of 20 and 40 every three years and are typically done along with a pelvic exam. Mammograms, which capture an X-ray image of the breast tissue can help detect breast cancer in its early stage and are recommended yearly starting at age 45, according to the American Cancer Society. Women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer may want to start screening earlier or more frequently.
Cervical cancer, which is commonly caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), is one of the most common causes of death by cancer for women but it’s also easy to detect and prevent with a pelvic exam. Pap smears can find abnormal cells and your doctor can remove them before they turn into cancer. It’s recommended that women get a pelvic exam every two to three years from 21 (or earlier if sexually active) to 30 and every five years between the ages of 30 and 65. More frequent exams may be needed if you’ve had abnormal Pap test results in the past or have HIV or a weakened immune system.
Skin cancer is a common occurrence but regular skin checks can help you catch and treat it quickly. Of the three main types of skin cancer, melanoma is considered the most dangerous but you should be monitored for basal cell and squamous cell too. Look for changes to the color, size and shape of any moles and freckles once a month at home and report these to your doctor for an expert opinion. Of course, you’ll also want to use sunscreen whenever you’re outside to guard against further skin damage.
Bone Density Exam
Osteoporosis is a major concern for women over the age of 65 but a preventative screening can help lower the odds of injury and limit the amount of bone loss. A bone density exam painlessly measures bone loss using X-ray technology and alerts you to potential breaks before they happen so you can take precautions. Women who have a history of bone fractures or low body weight may benefit from screening at an earlier age or more frequently.
Heart Health Exams
Considering that heart disease is a leading cause of death for women, it makes sense to regularly check that your heart is performing to the best of its ability. There are five tests that determine the healthiness of your heart and monitor good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar and blood pressure. By catching signs of heart disease early, changes can be made to your diet and exercise routine to lower your risk of heart attack. You can start monitoring your heart health once year during your annual physical as early as 18 years of age.
Exams For Women
As always, consult your doctor to find out what tests are right for you and how often they recommend that you take the exams for women based off your family history and existing health conditions.