The Well-Woman Check-up: Your Health Deserves Yearly Attention
SIOUX FALLS (Feb. 1, 2009) - Just because you're feeling great is no reason to bypass your annual well-woman check-up.
"Regular screenings are vitally important. Cervical cancer is very real, breast cancer is very real," said Dr. Kimberlee McKay, gynecologist with McGreevy Clinic Avera in Sioux Falls. "And there's almost always something that needs to be addressed in terms of preventative care."
Well-woman check-ups include the typical pap smear, pelvic exam and breast exam. But these visits may include a lot more, including blood pressure testing, and screens for high cholesterol, high blood sugar or abnormal thyroid levels.
It's typical to think of cancer as the major threat. "But high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are big killers in our society, and women aren't immune from them. I see 25-year-olds with these kinds of problems, or risk factors to develop these problems later on in life," Dr. McKay said. With over half of the population being overweight, diet and exercise is a common topic at annual visits.
What takes place at a well-woman check depends on the age group and risk level of the patient. "Women need to have a pap smear and pelvic exam within three years of becoming sexually active, or by age 21," Dr. McKay said. Patients age 26 or younger may want to consider the HPV vaccine which can greatly reduce the risk of cervical cancer.
Throughout their 20s and 30s, women in monogamous relationships who have three normal pap smears over three years can go to every two to three years for that particular screening. But the annual check-up is still a good idea in the off-years to watch for or prevent other health concerns.
Women who were married or in a monogamous relationship who get divorced or begin dating again need to go back to getting annual pap smears, if they become sexually active. "If women are exposed to HPV, the cells on the cervix can begin to change and become cancerous," Dr. McKay said.
Annual visits are a good time to bring up complaints such as heavy periods, which may limit activity and hamper quality of life. "This is something that women don't have to live with," Dr. McKay said.
Beginning at age 40, women of average risk should schedule annual mammograms. At age 50, women may need advice or treatment for menopause symptoms. Also at this age, risk increases for ovarian cancer. "Our only screening test for ovarian cancer is a pelvic exam," Dr. McKay said. Plus, age 50 is the time to schedule a colonoscopy to screen for colorectal cancer.
Well-woman checks can be done by an OB/GYN specialist, family practitioner, internist or mid-level practitioner. When calling for your appointment, let the scheduler know if you have health issues to discuss, so more time can be allowed. Also, know what your insurance plan does and does not cover for preventative health.
"A big part of maintaining your health is being very proactive. It's easier for a physician to help you do this if you're seen more often to prevent health issues now that may affect your quality of life in the future," Dr. McKay said.
For more information about women's health, go to www.AveraWomens.org.