Getting routine exams can give women a jump-start on treatment

Often when women come in for their annual physical, we review a “laundry list” of concerns saved up for that visit.

Most women are accustomed to a yearly physical examination to screen for breast cancer and have a Pap smear. However, some put these off, along with other concerns, until they are reminded by their health-care provider or a family member to get it done.

It is a good idea to write down everything you want to address during a medical visit, but remember that some symptoms and questions should not be postponed until the annual physical.

While women have other concerns besides the breast exam and a Pap smear, there is a huge impact on women’s health overall because of these two simple exams.

Breast cancer is a good example. Detected early, many forms of breast cancer are highly treatable and many survivors live for decades after diagnosis and treatment. We now see 30-year survivors participating in breast cancer walks and promoting mammograms.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it is a good time to get up to date and to remind your friends and family.

There has been recent debate ? about the importance of breast self-exams, but if you are going to do the exams monthly, report anything of concern to your doctor. You can download and print self-exam instructions at http://ww5.komen.org/Content. aspx?id=8934&terms=self-exam.

A Pap test screens for precancerous and cancerous cervical changes caused by HPV (human papilloma virus), which is sexually transmitted and very common.

Although there is an effective, protective vaccine available to women from 9 to 26 years old, a woman should still have her first examination within three years after she becomes sexually active.

If you are sexually active with a new partner or more than one partner, you should be tested for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at least annually because infections can happen without any symptoms.

Untreated STIs can cause such complications as infertility, blindness and mental illness. If you do not have health insurance, testing is available at Planned Parenthood.

For women in their 20s, a routine physical exam includes blood pressure and weight checks and a skin cancer screening.

Starting in your 40s, talk to your health care professional about screening for breast cancer (by examination and mammogram), high cholesterol and diabetes (by blood test). You may want to do this sooner if you have a family history or are otherwise at higher risk for these diseases.

In your 50s, you should begin getting screened for hearing loss and for colon and rectal cancer (using the fecal occult blood test and/or colonoscopy).

And when you reach your 60s, you should be thinking about osteoporosis and a bone density test.

Your family history, personal health history and overall health determine at what age you begin and how often you have these tests done. For example, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor about being checked earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer before menopause.

If you have diabetes, your eye doctor may want to see you more often to make sure it is not adversely affecting your eyes. People who smoke and those with other diseases may need earlier screening for osteoporosis.

Be sure to talk with your health-care provider about prevention of cancer, heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis. Get the most out of your health care by being open and honest with your health-care providers about your personal and family health histories. Then they will know which exams are most appropriate for you.

You should also see your dentist and an optometrist regularly as part of maintaining your health throughout your lifetime.

It is easy to put things off until you “have time” but it is never a good idea to delay health care.

Christ Clinic, Spokane Falls Clinic and Community Health Association of Spokane will see people without insurance on a sliding fee scale. There is also a program to pay for mammograms.

Once you do get your exams and talk to someone about other concerns you can feel more at ease and get back to doing the other things on your list – like enjoying time with your friends and family.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Send your questions and comments to drhideg@ghc.org.

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