Week 2 of our Gender Health Campaign focuses on Women's Health. Screenings are an important part of maintaining women's health. They can detect disease when it's most treatable and prevent serious problems.
To get the right screenings, talk to your doctor, who will take into consideration your age, overall health, family history and current health concerns. But also remember that knowledge is power and can change the lives of women drastically, especially if they are aware of early warning signs and symptoms of female cancers.
Women need to be pro-active about their health and should recognise warning signs. We encourage monthly breast self-examinations, annual medical check-ups and cancer screening for early detection, as symptoms don't always present until cancer has spread. Women also need to lead a healthy, balanced lifestyle, cutting out lifestyle factors that increase their cancer risk.
One of the main screening tests to take note of is the different breast examinations that can be done.
- Breast Self-Examinations
While not all breast lumps indicate cancer, they should be investigated, especially if accompanied by other changes in breasts or the under arm area, such as lumps, texture changes, thickening, dimpling, changes in shape or size of nipples or breasts, tenderness, discharge, rash or swelling, or one breast suddenly being slightly larger than the other.
Research has shown that a regular Breast Self-Examination (BSE), plays an important role in discovering breast cancer, compared to finding a breast lump by chance.
A BSE should be done once a month, preferably at the same time of day, following a woman's menstrual cycle.
- Clinical Breast Examinations
A Clinical Breast Examination (CBE) is a visual and manual examination of the entire breast, from the collarbone to the bra line, and from the armpit to the breast bone. It is advisable to have a CBE as part of your annual medical check-up.
Mammograms (a special x-ray to detect lumps in the breast), do not prevent breast cancer, but they can save lives by finding breast cancer as early as possible. Finding breast cancers early with mammography has also meant that many more women being treated for breast cancer are able to keep their breasts. When caught early, localised cancers can be removed without resorting to breast removal (mastectomy).
Women from the age of 40 should go for an annual mammogram, for purposes of non-symptomatic breast screening. Women 55 years and older, should have a mammogram every two years – or if they choose, continue with an annual mammogram. Women, who have other risk factors such as mutated BRCA1 /2 gene, should be referred for an annual mammogram.
It's also important to get screened for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). They may not cause symptoms, meaning you can pass them to your partner or, if pregnant, to an unborn child.
The screening tests a woman needs
Here is a checklist for the other common, and preventable, conditions:
|HIV Test||Blood sample||Every six months if you are sexually active.||With a healthy lifestyle, you may live symptom-free for many years. Appropriate treatment may add years and quality to your life.|
|Blood Pressure||No needles!|
In your 20s and 30s: every two years
40+ years: once a year
|Almost 90% of people older than 55 will develop high blood pressure. Your blood pressure should not exceed 120/80 mm Hg. People with a blood pressure of 135/85 mm Hg have twice the risk of heart disease and an increased risk for stroke.|
In your 20s and 30s and a family history of heart disease: every two years
>40 years: every time you go for a check-up
|High cholesterol levels increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. It is recommended that all blood lipid levels should be checked and not only cholesterol levels.|
|Type II Diabetes||Blood sample|
Everybody, no matter their age, should be tested every three years if they are at risk.
People who are most at risk include those with a family history of diabetes, people who are overweight, or people who have high cholesterol levels or high blood pressure.
|If you have Type 2 diabetes, you are at a higher risk for heart disease and eye problems.|
|Colon Check||Preferably a colonoscopy - an internal investigation of the colon with a flexible instrument after sedation|
If there is no family history of colon cancer: age 50.
If there is a family history: age 40.
Then a colonoscopy every 5 - 10 years, depending on your degree of risk. If more than one first-degree relative has developed colon cancer, you should go every 3 - 5 years. Take note of sudden changes in regular bowel habit, blood in stools; or colic, bloating or fullness.
|Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer affecting South African women. If detected early, colon cancer is very treatable. Hereditary colorectal cancer is prevalent in some South African families: one in four cases are indeed genetic and may be detected very early with DNA tests.|
|Skin Check||Checking the appearance of a lesion. The doctor can also take a small sample of the lesion.|
Age 18: start checking your skin monthly for suspicious moles or colour changes, especially if you're fair-skinned or have high levels of sun exposure.
>40: Annual, full body skin exams with your dermatologist
|Most forms of skin cancer, when detected early, can be treated very successfully.|
|Eye Test||Reading an eye chart and having an optometrist look into your eyes|
In your 20s or 30s: every five years.
In your 40s: once every two years
50+ years: annually
Watch out for blurry vision, obstructed vision or pain in the eye.
|Regular eye tests will detect weak eyesight, glaucoma and cataracts and may even save you from blindness.|
|Bone Density||Usually via a DXA scan (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry)||The general guideline for bone density tests is to start by age 65. But if you have a thin build or other risk factors, start at age 50.||By measuring the strength of your bones, you can detect and treat serious bone loss called osteoporosis.|
|Pap and HPV Screenings||Cells are collected from the cervix||> 20: every 2-3 years||Screenings should take place to check for pre- or early cervical cancer and the human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer.|
A balanced lifestyle will reduce your risk for developing non-communicable diseases and cancer, and includes making smart food and drink choices; being physically active on a regular basis; maintaining a healthy weight; and avoiding known cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) such as tobacco and alcohol.
If you would like to chat to one of the Nurses or Doctors at Campus Health Services, please contact us and book an appointment here.