Screening tests save lives. When caught early, most diseases and cancers can be treated. That’s why women’s health experts at the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommend the screening tests featured in the info box for women through the years.
Screening Tests for Women
Swab of cervix to check for cervical cancer
At age 21, every 3 years; less frequently after age 65 if normal
Check for HIV, HPV, Chlamydia, gonorrhea plus others
Ongoing after women become sexually active — no set schedule for most, except HPV every 3 years at age 30
Clinical Breast Exam
Manual check for breast cancer
Age 20 – 40, every 1 to 3 years; 40 and older, every year
Digital check for breast cancer
At age 40, every year; after age 65 case-by-case basis
Thyroid-stimulating Hormone Screening
Check thyroid gland
At age 50, every 5 years
Colorectal Cancer Screening
Check for cancer in colon or rectum
At age 50, colonoscopy every 10 years; other tests every 1 to 5 years
Bone Density Scan
Screening for osteoporosis
At age 65, every 2 years
“I have had several instances of women getting a screening test who didn’t want to do it, and lo and behold, we found something serious. Screening tests are a key part of preventing cancer and other diseases,” said Dr. Scott Ellis, OB-GYN with TMH Medical Clinic.
Screening tests often are performed during an annual exam. Getting an annual exam is important, even if you are not due for a screening test.
“Whether you see a family practitioner or a gynecologist, it’s important to have a yearly visit with a doctor. Annual OB-GYN exams give doctors a chance to assess the health of your reproductive organs and check for risk factors,” Ellis said.
Recommendations recently changed for certain tests, such as the Pap test and mammograms. If you have concerns or a family history of a certain disease, talk with your doctor about getting a test more frequently.
Screening tests are important because there often are no outward signs that cancer is present in a reproductive organ.
“With ovarian cancer, women might feel a fullness in their abdomen or pelvis, or a sensation of getting full quicker when they eat, but it isn’t that concerning, and they often don’t seek care right away,” Ellis added.
Women 50 and older need to get both their thyroid and colon checked.
According to Ellis, thyroid disease is fairly common. It brings on a slew of symptoms including weight loss or gain, depression, fatigue, changes in menstruation, hair loss and dry skin. Colon cancer may show up as rectal bleeding and a change in bowel habits.
An annual OB-GYN physical exam includes a physical check for masses on the ovaries. If anything is suspected, diagnostic tests, such as ultrasounds, are ordered. During a physical exam, doctors also check for lesions on the vagina — a possible sign of vaginal cancer. Endometrial cancer can show up as uterine bleeding, but there is no specific screen for it.
Not yet, anyway.
“There are some genetic screening tests that are becoming available, and as time goes on, we will see those become part of screening process,” Ellis stated.
Early detection not only saves lives, it saves hassle, worry and expense. When caught early, precancerous cells or lesions often can be removed at a clinic or with minor surgery rather than having to go to the hospital to receive a hysterectomy or cancer treatments.
“Screening tests are not always pleasant, but they make a huge difference on health outcomes,” Ellis said.
If you are due for an annual exam or screening test, make a commitment to call for an appointment soon. The TMH Medical Clinic is proud to offer a wide range of gynecological services.
This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig – improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.