This month, the Office on Women’s Health will sponsor Women’s Health Week, beginning on Mother’s Day, May 12, and running through May 19. In celebration of Women’s Health Week and throughout the year, we encourage women of all ages to empower themselves by focusing on their personal health and getting the tests and screenings they need to live longer, healthier lives.
Eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting a regular Pap smear and mammogram — these are just a few of the many steps women can take toward good health. It can be tough to figure out exactly which services and screenings are right for you and when, but here are some guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force — an independent group of national experts in prevention that makes recommendations, based on the latest science, about what works and what doesn’t work for preventing disease and promoting good health.
Four health screenings every woman should know about
- Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one cause of death for women. You can help prevent CVD by addressing important risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. For example, if you are age 40 to 75, talk to your doctor about your CVD risk and whether a statin may be right for you. Statins are medications that lower your cholesterol, prevent buildup of cholesterol and fats in your arteries, and reduce your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.
Depending on your age and risk factors, taking a low-dose aspirin daily can also potentially help prevent CVD. When blood clots form in narrow blood vessels, such as the ones in your heart and brain, it can cause a heart attack or stroke. Aspirin can help keep these blood clots from happening, lowering your risk. There are some risks associated with taking low-dose aspirin every day, so make sure you talk to your doctor about whether aspirin is right for you.
You can also reduce your risk of CVD by quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet and becoming more physically active.
- Cervical Cancer
Screening for cervical cancer finds the disease when it is most treatable. Unfortunately, 12,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. Most cases of cervical cancer happen in women who have not been regularly screened or appropriately treated. That is why it is critical for women to get screened regularly starting at age 21. There are several effective options for screening, depending on your age and preferences. The Pap test and the human papillomavirus (HPV) test are the most effective ways to screen for cervical cancer and are done during a visit to your doctor’s office. Talk to your doctor about which test is best for you and how often you should be tested.
- Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women. Breast cancer screening aims to find the disease early, when it is easier to treat. Mammogramsare the most effective method of screening for breast cancer. Evidence shows that the benefits of mammograms increase with age, with women aged 60 to 69 most likely to benefit from screening. Still, about one in three women who should get a mammogram regularly do not. If you are between the ages of 50 and 74, talk to your doctor about getting a mammogram regularly. Some women start screening as early as age 40. Talk with your doctor about your individual situation and circumstances, when you should start screening and how often you should be screened.
- Bone Density
As people age, their bones begin to thin. For some people, their bones become very weak and can break or fracture more easily, a condition known as osteoporosis. Osteoporosis affects one in every four women age 65 or older in the United States. Bone density tests can be used to screen for osteoporosis and identify the likelihood of future fractures. For people who have osteoporosis, treatments are available to reduce the risk of a fracture. If you are age 65 or older (or younger than 65 with certain risk factors), ask your doctor about being screened for osteoporosis and other ways to improve bone health.
As always, your doctor is your partner in health and can help you set realistic goals, given your current status and needs. Working toward those goals and achieving them will empower you to live your healthiest life.