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Routine medical screenings are an essential element of a healthy lifestyle. Many health screenings are recommended for both men and women, but women also should include some gender-specific testing in their health routines.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." That popular adage can be applied to personal health, particularly with respect to women's health screenings.
• Breast cancer: Both men and women can get breast cancer, but women are at a far greater risk than men. According to Breastcancer.org, roughly one in eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. The Canadian Cancer Society says breast cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in Canadian women. The earlier a woman finds breast cancer, the better her chance for survival. Cancers caught early are less likely to spread to the lymph nodes and vital organs than cancers caught at later stages. Recommendations on mammogram screening start time and frequency vary with age and risk factor, so women should discuss and develop an individualized plan with their doctors.
• Cervical cancer: Doctors advise that women should receive pelvic exams beginning at age 21, or earlier for women who are sexually active. Pap smears are screenings that help detect the presence of cancerous cells on and around the cervix that may be indicative of cervical cancer. Guidelines continually change regarding the frequency of Pap smear testing, but the general consensus is women age 30 and older may need screening every three years if they have not had any abnormal tests in the past, according to Everyday Health. Women should speak with their gynecologists regarding how frequently they should be tested for cervical cancer.
• Bone density test: Osteoporosis, a weakening of bones that causes them to become more fragile, may initially be symptom-free. Osteoporosis is often discovered only after a fracture. The National Osteoporosis Foundation says that estrogen decreases during menopause can cause bone loss, which is why women have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis than men. In addition to healthy living habits, bone mineral density tests beginning at age 65 or earlier can help identify problems early on. Certain risk factors may require women to begin receiving bone density tests before age 65.
• Skin cancer screening: A report from the National Cancer Institute appearing in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology revealed startling melanoma trends among young women. This deadly skin cancer is rising in incidence. Screening for changes in skin markings can help identify melanoma and other non-melanoma cancers early on. Skin should be checked by a dermatologist or a general health professional during regular physicals.
Guidelines recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a group of experts in disease prevention, also recommend these screenings for women: blood pressure, cholesterol, colorectal cancer, and diabetes. Proper care and early identification of illness risk factors can keep women on the road to good health.