Essential health screenings for women
Posted on 11 April 2019
Health screenings for women become more important as you age, not less. Here’s how to pre-empt potential medical problems with a proactive approach
▶ To test for human papilloma virus (HPV) and cancer, your GP or gynaecologist can do a Pap smear, which entails taking a scrape or sample of cells from the cervix and sending them to test for irregularities. Dr Annalien Greeff, a general practitioner at Mediclinic Hermanus, says women should have their first annual Pap smear as soon as they become sexually active. Cervical cancer is generally slow to develop so early detection is helpful for effective treatment.
▶ This test uses radiology to scan the breast for irregular tissue and is effective at detecting early signs of cancer. Mammogram results are compared to those from previous years to note any changes. Dr Greeff recommends that women with any history of breast cancer start screenings at age 30, while those with no history can start having annual mammograms from age 40. Thermal imaging, or thermography, is another non-invasive way of detecting irregular breast tissue.
Visit your GP or Dermatologist annually for a “Mole Patrol” to check for the beginnings of skin cancer or skin changes caused by sun exposure. Generally, skin cancer is one of the easiest forms of the disease to treat if caught early, yet South Africa has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.
BLOOD PRESSURE & BLOOD TESTS
▶ Hypertension, or chronically high blood pressure, is a primary precursor to heart disease. Dr Greeff recommends that young and healthy patients have their blood pressure checked once a year, while those on medication, or over the age of 40, should check their blood pressure every six months. Other important blood tests for patients over 40 include: fasting glucose levels, cholesterol, thyroid, liver, kidney and bone marrow function, says Dr Greeff, to pick up early warning signs of serious illnesses.
▶ “If you are healthy, you should have your first colonoscopy at age 50,” says Dr Greeff. “The schedule of follow-up scopes will be determined by the surgeon, on the basis of those initial results.” Colon cancer, however, is usually painless, and when it manifests through bleeding may be well advanced. “If you have any complaints such as rectal bleeding or changes in bowel habits, you may need a colonoscopy at a younger age.”
SOURCES CANSA, NATIONAL CANCER REGISTRY