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Health Care Exams
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Health Care Exams

Women of all ages sometimes seek medical help only for pregnancy or gynecological issues. Don't neglect your routine health care during these busy years. According to the National Women's Health Information Center, these are the routine checkups that every woman needs. Further, these exams can be beneficial in identifying problems and should be performed if you experience any abnormal symptoms such as pain, lump or discharge from your breast; irregular bleeding or foul smelling vaginal discharge; vaginal, uterine or ovarian pain; blood in your stool; skin growths; or dental carries.

Components of Routine Health Care

Physical Examination

Most experts recommend an annual physical by a health care practitioner. In addition to the tests listed below this should include pelvic, rectal, skin, and blood pressure evaluations. Pelvic exams, along with routine pap tests, evaluate the health of the female reproductive tract and help identify sexually transmitted diseases, cancer, or other abnormalities. Rectal exams are recommended annually for women over age 50, earlier if you have inflammatory bowel disease or a first-degree relative with colon cancer. Skin examinations should also be performed annually to check moles or suspicious growths.

Breast Examination

Your doctor should perform a professional exam of your breasts annually and you should perform a breast self-exam every month. It is recommended that women perform breast self-exams, as women are often the first to notice subtle changes in their breasts.

Because breast tissue changes slightly with cyclic hormone fluctuations, the best time to do the exam is 7 to 10 days after the beginning of your last menstrual period. For women who experience breast changes during ovulation, it may be better to perform breast self exam on the last day of the menstrual cycle. For those past menopause, try to perform the exam at the same time each month.


The mammogram (breast x-ray) can often detect a lump well before you or your doctor can feel it. An initial or baseline mammogram is recommended for most women before their 40th birthday, and follow up exams are scheduled according to age and risk profile.

Some women find this procedure uncomfortable, but it is currently the best screening tool for breast cancer. In fact, many studies have shown that screening mammograms taken on a regular basis have the potential for reducing deaths from breast cancer in women between the ages of 50 to 69 by up to 40 per cent. Consult your doctor about getting regular screening mammograms.

Pap test

The Pap test is a screening tool used to monitor for precancerous or cancerous cells in the cervix or neck of the uterus. This test is usually part of a routine examination for women, starting from onset of sexual activity or age 18. Frequency of the test may be performed yearly or up to every 3 years depending on your age, risk and history of normal tests. This is best discussed with your physician to decide what is best for you.

Although this procedure is uncomfortable, it remains the number one screening tool we have for cervical cancer. Worldwide, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women. One-half of the women with newly diagnosed invasive cervical cancer have never had a Pap test, and another 10 percent have not had a Pap test in the past 5 years.

Blood tests Blood tests may be done to screen for a variety of diseases. A blood glucose test may be performed to detect elevated blood sugar and diabetes. Total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol should be checked annually to watch for elevated cholesterol and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Your doctor may also want to check for thyroid disease using the Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH) test.

Hemoglobin and ferritin levels may be done to check for anemia. Anemia can be a risk in women for two reasons, menstrual bleeding and dietary deficiency. If during menopause you experienced prolonged or heavy bleeding, your doctor may monitor these levels for development of anemia. To avoid nutritional deficiencies, be aware of the food sources of iron, vitamin B12, and folate and include them in your diet daily.

Other tests

In addition to routine blood tests, other blood tests should be considered. If you had a blood transfusion between 1978 and 1985, have injected illegal drugs, have had multiple sexual partners or have had sex with a man who had sex with another man an HIV test is indicated.

A physical exam and/or blood tests for sexually transmitted diseases should be discussed with your physician if you have had multiple sexual partners.

Finally, if you have injected illegal drugs, have been an alcoholic or a health care worker, have been exposed to someone with tuberculosis (TB), have recently moved from Asia, Africa, Central or South America or the Pacific Islands or if you have kidney failure or HIV disease, you should be tested for TB.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy In this screening procedure, a hollow, lighted tube is used to visually inspect the wall of the rectum and the left side of the colon. Flexible sigmoidoscopy can detect about 65 to 75 percent of polyps and 40 to 65 percent of colorectal cancers. Colorectal cancer is the second highest cause of death from cancer in the United States. Studies indicate that deaths from colorectal cancer could be reduced by as much as 55 to 70 percent with the use of screening flexible sigmoidoscopy.
Fecal occult blood test The fecal occult blood test is a chemical test for blood in a stool sample. A study conducted in the United States showed a 33 percent reduction in colorectal cancer deaths among the participants who were annually screened.
Dental exams Twice yearly for cleaning and checkups.

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