“We could have caught this sooner” ← Those are words you never want to hear from your doctor.
Yet as a Doctor of Chiropractic care, I hear this almost every week from women who come into my office seeking care.
It saddens me because they’re often doing everything right: taking vitamins, exercising and eating healthy.
But that’s not always enough. In addition to those habits, it’s important to get regular health screenings.
While regular checkups apply to men and women, there are several essential health screenings specifically for women. So today, I want to share 5 of the most important health exams for women, how often you should get them, and why they’re so important.
Women’s Health Exam #1: Mammograms
One of the most common and most important health exams you can get as a woman is a mammogram screening.
Breast cancer makes up roughly 30 percent of new cancer diagnoses in women. And out of every 8 women in the United States., 1 will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime.
That’s why it’s critical to get mammograms.
It’s recommended that women ages 50 to 74 years should get a mammogram every 2 years.
These screenings can save lives. Early detection is so important to the eventual treatment and possible remission process. Studies have shown that these regular mammograms can help reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer among women ages 40 to 74, especially for those over age 50.
What does a mammogram screening entail?
If you’ve never had a mammogram before or are worried about what the exam entails, let me put your mind at ease:
- Mammograms are noninvasive, low-dose X-ray exams. No need to stress surgery or going under the knife.
- When the mammogram screening begins, you’ll stand in front of a machine and plastic plates will firmly press your breasts from the sides and above. Most women do feel pressure, but keep in mind that it’s a short exam and discomfort should only last a few minutes.
- And you can get your results back relatively fast. Sometimes during the same visit!
You can generally get them done through your primary care physician or a referral.
Women’s Health Exam #2: Gynecological Exams
Another important exam for women is regular visits to a gynecologist.
It’s recommended that women between the ages of 18 and 21 begin receiving gynecological exams annually.
What does a gynecological exam entail?
During a gynecological exam, you will receive a pelvic exam and Pap smear.
A Pap Smear checks for precancerous or cancerous cells of your cervix and should be done annually.
Many women say, “But what if I’m not experiencing any symptoms?”
Still get the exam.
During it, expect to feel like a strong pinch during the sample collection. It’s over relatively quick and results come fast, too.
When it comes to the pelvic exam, it checks for any abnormalities or visual indication of STDs in your vulva, labia, and cervix. It’s also not very comfortable, but it is over quickly.
These two exams may feel the most uncomfortable, compared to the urine sample and breast exam you’ll also receive from your gynecologist, but they are incredibly important in your preventive health care.
Women’s Health Exam #3: “Heart Healthy” Indicators
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States and claims the life of a woman about every 80 seconds.
And two of the biggest leading indicators for heart disease is hypertension — high blood pressure — and high cholesterol.
That’s why it’s important to get regular checks on both.
Health.gov recommends that if you are 40 or older or if you’re at higher risk for high blood pressure, get your blood pressure checked annually.
If you’re 18 to 40 and aren’t at increased risk for high blood pressure, it’s recommended you get your blood pressure checked every 3 to 5 years.
And for cholesterol checks, The American Heart Association recommends anyone over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol and other traditional risk factors checked every 4 to 6 years.
Women’s Health Exam #4: Bone Density Screenings
One of the most common health issues women face as they age is osteoporosis.
What’s osteoporosis? A bone condition that causes bones to thin and weaken.
Of the 10 million Americans with osteoporosis, 80% are women.
And regular screenings for bone density is very important. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all women over the age of 65 get a bone density test.
What does a bone density screening entail?
This screening is done through a DEXA scan. Compared to other exams, it’s a quick and painless screening. You can expect to lie on a table while a low-dose X-ray machine captures images of your bones.
And results often come back the same day.
Women’s Health Exam #5: Skin Screenings
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.
It affects an estimated 1 in 5 Americans by the age of 70, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. And early detection of skin issues can be life saving.
That’s why it’s recommended women get their skin screened regularly.
The good news is, you can perform a self-exam in most cases.
I recommend doing a self-check for big or sudden changes to your skin once a month.
Pay particular attention to new moles or changes to existing moles. Both of those can be early signs of skin cancer and a sign to go see a skin specialist for diagnoses.
If you notice anything come up in your self-exams, make sure you discuss the changes or irregularities with your doctor.
They’ll be able to work with you to determine when or if further testing is needed or if you need more regular visits and professional skin exams done.
An ounce of prevention is a pound of cure
Don’t let the sentence “We could have caught this sooner” haunt you.
If you’re already taking steps to improve your health, regular health screenings are an all-important next step.
Screenings play a huge role in early detection. And early detection is critical in prevention and potential remission of health issues down the road.
So if it’s been awhile since you’ve had an exam or you were curious what they would entail, take this nudge to go get one done. Most take only a couple minutes but can literally be lifesaving.