10 Essential Screening Tests Every Woman Should Take
It is essential the following screening tests are done before any disease is found, or symptoms show up. Remember prevention is better than cure. Early detection offers hope of faster recovery, and a better chance to live a fulfilling life. The tests you have to take in your lifetime depend on your age and your risk factors. Consult your doctor to recommend you the most important tests.
1. Breast Cancer
Your odds of survival drastically improve when breast cancer is detected in its early stages because surgery is better when the cancer cell is small and less likely to spread to the lymph nodes and other vital organs like the lungs and brain. If you’re in your 20s or 30s, and don’t have any known breast cancer risk factors, you should make this screening a regular health exam once every three years. The American Cancer Society recommends a yearly screening for women who have an average risk factor beginning at age 40. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening mammograms every two years from ages 50 to 74. Although there is still controversy surrounding mammogram, however it can detect a lump three years before you can feel it. Take note, mammograms are not fool-proof against breast cancer.
2. Cervical Cancer
Cervical Cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related disease and death among women worldwide. The best way to detect cervical cancer is by having regular Papanicolaou tests or better known as Pap smear (Pap is the shortened name of the doctor who developed the screening test). No woman is going to enjoy the discomfort of a Pap-Smear test where a swab sample is taken from your cervix and sent to lab to be examined for precancerous and cancer cells but a pap smear can detect certain viral infections (such as human papillomavirus [HPV]) and other cancer-causing conditions early. The worse part is, a woman may have cervical cancer and not know it because she may not have any symptoms. Cervical cancer screening is recommended yearly starting when women are aged 18 years, or when they become sexually active if younger than 18 years. This test can be done once a year by your gynaecologist.
3. Skin Cancer
The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change in the appearance of the skin, such as a new growth or a sore that will not heal. Some people may have a genetic risk factor for melanoma (a type of skin cancer). And the risk increases with overexposure to the sun and sunburn. Early treatment of skin cancer can be effective. And melanomas that are detected at a thinner stage can be treated more successfully than thick ones that have grown deeper into the skin. Regular skin self-exams are recommended to check for any changes in skin texture such as marks on your skin and change in shape, colour, and size. A skin exam by a qualified practitioner should be part of a routine cancer checkup.
Osteoporosis is a condition where the bone density decreases causing high risk of fracture and bone loss which accelerates in women after menopause. The first symptom is often a painful bone fracture that can occur with only a minor fall, blow, or even a twist of the body. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation of U.S., osteoporosis threatens over half of its adults aged 50 and above. Early detection is the key to avert serious damages in one’s later years. A test that can measure bone mineral density and detect osteoporosis before fractures occur is usually recommended. It is essential for women over 65 to have regular health screening tests for osteoporosis, or younger women with risk factors for osteoporosis.
5. High Cholesterol
Due to poor diet habits and lack of exercise, our cholesterol levels can be very erratic. A high level of LDL cholesterol is a major factor that increases the risk of developing heart disease and atherosclerosis – hardening and narrowing of the arteries – which is caused by plaque build-up inside your arteries. Symptoms are usually unknown until there is a sign of heart attack and stroke. For adults 20 and older, a total cholesterol exam in the form of a simple blood test can assess your risk of heart disease. A blood test can quickly reveal levels of total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, and triglyceride (blood fat). You can make management decisions based on the results. Lifestyle changes, like starting on physical exercise and strict adherence to diet are the best way to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. If you smoke or have high blood pressure, diabetes or family history of heart disease, it is recommended that a total cholesterol exam be conducted every year.
6. High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
Your risk for high blood pressure increases with age. It’s also related to your weight and lifestyle habits. Having your blood pressure checked regularly can give indications of other diseases as well. People with diabetes, kidney and liver problems often have symptoms of high blood pressure. But high blood pressure can be treated, which in turn can even reduce your risk of complications from heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure. Normal adult blood pressure is less than 120/80. Blood pressure that is 140/90 or higher is considered high blood pressure. A reading between those two is considered prehypertension. How often blood pressure should be checked depends on how high it is and what other risk factors you have.
7. Type 2 Diabetes
Diabetes is among the leading cause of death around the world and not many know they have it in the first place. It can lead to an array of complications such as heart disease and stroke, kidney disease, blindness from damage to the blood vessels of the retina, and nerve damage. But if detected early, diabetes can be controlled through diet, exercise, and weight loss. A test known as fasting plasma glucose is most often used to screen for diabetes and pre-diabetes. Blood is drawn after you have fasted at least eight hours and used to determine your blood sugar level. A level of 100 to 125 indicates pre-diabetes. While 126 or higher indicates diabetes. If you’re healthy and have a normal risk of diabetes, you should have the test every three years starting at age 45. If you have a higher risk, you may start testing earlier and more frequently.
8. Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum. It is one of the most common cancer in for women after lung and breast cancer. It is often curable if detected early. This type of cancer is more common in women over 50 as risk increases with age. The majority of colon cancers are likely to develop from colon polyps – growths inside the colon and rectum that may become cancerous. If you consume a high fat diet, has a family history or personal history of colorectal cancer or ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, you should take additional precautions. Symptoms can include blood in the stool, narrower stools, a change in bowel habits and general stomach discomfort. Colonoscopy – where a doctor views the entire colon using a flexible tube and a camera – is one method to screen for colorectal cancer.
Glaucoma is a potentially blinding eye disease in which there is gradual damage to the nerve fibers of the optic nerve. It often produces no symptoms until it is too late and vision loss has begun. There is good evidence that treating elevated eye pressure in glaucoma can prevent blindness. Glaucoma is silent, which makes it extremely dangerous. People with a family history of glaucoma, diabetes, and those either very nearsighted (high myopes) or who are taking steroids on a long-term basis, are at much higher risk of developing glaucoma. The risk gets higher as you grow older. If you’re over 60, even if you’re apparently healthy, see an eye doctor at least every two years. How often you should have an eye exam that includes measuring the pressure inside the eye depends on your age and risk factors. For healthy individuals without increased risk, routine screening every two to four years is recommended for people under age 40.
10. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
At the end of 2009 it was estimated that out of the 33.3 million adults worldwide living with HIV and AIDS, more than half were women. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the condition that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). It spreads from one person to another when body secretions come in contact via the vagina, anal area, mouth, eyes, or a break in the skin. Theoretically, early treatment with anti-HIV medications may help the body’s immune system fight the virus. Till now, there is still no cure or vaccine. HIV-infected individuals can remain symptom free for many years and the only way to know if they are infected is with a series of blood tests.