As a woman of a certain age, I know I need to take better care of my body, especially when it comes to health screenings. For women 40 and over, there are tests that are extremely important to maintain optimal health and to detect early stages of wellness issues.
Unfortunately, aging is the number one factor that increases our chances for many illness. Bummer, huh? Yes, I am a child of the 80’s or else I suppose I would not say bummer. Here are some of the most important health screenings for women to consider after age 40.
Breast Cancer Screening
A mammogram is the standard here (see below), but talk to your doctor about what is best for you. I have very dense breast tissue so a follow up ultrasound is almost always needed for me. I have had a few MRI’s as well. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the higher your chance for survival. For example, breast cancers caught in stages 1-2 have over 90% survival rate.
Typical Breast Cancer Screenings
Mammogram: A mammogram is performed to check the breasts for cancer. This procedure usually begins at age 40 and is performed every one to two years. If a woman has certain risk factors, such as, family history, mammograms may need to be performed more often.
Speak with your doctor about how often it is needed in your case, and make an appointment as soon as possible. Women who neglect to get this screening may increase their risk of developing cancer or other problems and can miss out on all the benefits of early detection. It is better to be safe than sorry, so contact your doctor today. I have a neighbor who’s doctor thankfully forced her to get a mammogram because she had never had one. They found stage 3 breast cancer. That screening saved her life!
Clinical Breast Exam: A clinic breast exam should be by your health care provider at your annual exam. Clinical exams should be a part of your annual exams far before you turn 40. I had my first lump detected when I was 25. Self exams are also important. Get to know your breasts so you can feel when something is out of the ordinary.
Other Health Screenings
Regular Blood Work: Typically the doctor should order comprehensive blood work at least every few years. This can help detect high cholesterol and other possible problems that can be detected and treated as needed.
Pap Smear and Pelvic Exam: This exam checks for cervical cancer and usually begins at age 21 for most women, especially if they are sexually active. This procedure is meant to detect any signs of cervical cancer so that doctors can treat or possibly prevent the disease from developing. This procedure should be performed every three years unless recommended otherwise by your doctor.
HPV Test: Before the 1980’s women were recommended to get a Pap Smear every year. Then it was discovered that cervical cancer is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). Numerous studies revealed that it actually takes 10 to 20 years for cervical cancer to develop for women who are infected with HPV. Therefore, now the American Cancer Society, along with 25 other authority organizations, recommend that women ages 30-65 should also be screened for HPV test while doing the Pap Smear.
Annual skin check: As skin cancer rates continue to rise, getting an annual skin exam with a dermatologist is very important. If you don’t have anything atypical, the exam will only take about 10 minutes. If you have any suspicious areas or moles, your doctor will take a bit more time. Your dermatologist may biopsy (remove a layer of skin for examination under a microscope) suspicious-looking growths.
Colonoscopy: The starting age is usually 50 unless otherwise specified by your healthcare provider. I am supposed to get one due to some family history. It’s the one I keep putting off. This screening involves the insertions of a long, flexible instrument into the rectum in order to view the inside of the colon. It may sound uncomfortable, but, this test is necessary for detecting signs of colon cancer, such as, polyps and other growths. Unless there are certain risk factors in place, this test is only needed once every 10 years.
For a complete list of health screening tests, speak with your doctor. Some women may require more tests than others while others may need less. It all depends on you as an individual and your medical and genetic health history.
You have the responsibility to take care of your body and your life. Don’t let health problems sneak up on you. Stay on top of your medical care, and speak with your doctor, ask questions and remain in tune with your body to ensure your good health.