In our community, women are the backbone. Oftentimes we are so busy taking care of everyone else, that we neglect our own health. There are several tests that are recommended for African American women at different stages of life. These tests will help monitor our health and keep us in the best possible shape. In addition to knowing your test results, you have to eat right and exercise.
Pap Smear (Pap Test) is a test for precancerous cell changes on the cervix that may become cervical cancer if they are not treated. This test should be performed every 3 years starting at age 21. In the past, physicians performed these exams annually. I am from the old school and I am tested annually because my insurance has not made the change. You can ask your physician for their opinion and check with your insurance. The new guideline suggests that annual testing is not necessary. Please have a discussion with your doctor about what is best for you. It is recommended that these tests are no longer administered after 65 years of age and in the event of a hysterectomy.
HPV Test (Human Papilloma Virus) is a test to detect the virus that causes the precancerous cells that will become cervical cancer. This test should be performed every 5 years starting at age 21, and not at the same time as the Pap Smear. It is recommended that these tests are no longer administered after 65 years of age.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are tested with a swab in the cervix. Testing starts at the onset of sexual activity. HIV, syphilis and hepatitis are tested with a blood test. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages HIV testing, at least once, as a routine part of medical care if you’re an adolescent or adult between the ages of 13 and 64. The CDC advises yearly HIV testing if you are at high risk of infection.
Colon Cancer Screening
Fecal Occult Blood Test – During a digital rectal exam the doctor will take a sample of stool and test to make certain there is no blood present. This test should be performed annually starting at age 50.
Sigmoidoscopy – If you have a positive FOBT doctors will sometimes recommend a sigmoidoscopy before a colonoscopy.
Colonoscopy – If there is a family history of polyps or colon cancer, the doctor may suggest you have a baseline colonoscopy earlier than 50. Every 10 years after the age of 50 is what is recommended for this test.
Breast Cancer Screening
Self Breast Exam – Is best performed in the shower. Use the pads of 3 fingers to check each breast for lumps. Move your fingers in a row pattern. Up and down all the way across one breast and then the other. Check the outside from armpit to collar bone, and below the breast. Check the middle from the breast itself and inside the nipple area. After you leave the shower, check for liquid coming from nipples, puckering of the skin, redness, swelling, change in size and/or shape. Self Breast exam can be performed lying down in bed as well.
If you feel any lumps or changes, call your doctor. Remember most lumps are not cancer. It’s not about finding cancer; it’s about knowing what is normal for your breasts. If something does not feel normal, call your doctor. It is recommended that you begin these at 18 years.
Mammogram – Doctors are performing baseline mammograms between 35-40 and starting at 40 years annual mammograms.
Ovarian Reserve is the capacity of the ovary to provide eggs for fertilization. The blood test to check ovarian reserve is the day 3 Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) Test. For women who are over 30 years old and are interested in bearing children should ask their doctor to give them a blood test that checks their hormones (so they can find out their ovarian reserve). Normal hormone levels and regular menstrual cycles decreases the likelihood of infertility problems.
General Health Tests
General health tests that should be performed regularly are thyroid disease, blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes. Mental health is also very important to your general health, so if you are having any feelings of depression please seek medical attention. Depression can be caused by chemical imbalance as well as life circumstances.
It is very important for women to be proactive about their health care. Preventive medicine is the best medicine. Many diseases can go years without exhibiting symptoms, this is why it is important to visit the doctor regularly and be tested. I will discuss how to keep your husbands and kids healthy in future articles.
BMWK, Ladies are you keeping up with your health?