Lifesaving Health Care Screening Tests for Women

Women, while taking on more active roles in society, career and family, tend to have a lot on their mind. So much so that their attention to personal well-being may be compromised. Due to their increasing responsibilities, most women have a tendency to pass up on opportunities to take advantage of health care screening tests. Unfortunately, such tests are necessary in detecting (and preventing) potential health risks.

Below are the top five lifesaving screening tests every woman needs, as rated by WebMD.

Heart disease screening

According to the American Heart Association coronary heart disease is the largest cause of women’s deaths – about 500,000 cases every year. As much as 80% of this could be prevented by making the necessary lifestyle changes.

One way to assess your risk factors for heart disease is through screening tests for total cholesterol levels, high density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol, and blood fats known as triglycerides. For women over 50 years of age, it is highly recommended to have tests checking your C-reactive protein (CRP), homocysteine, and lipoprotein (a) [LP(a)] levels.

Inflammation, which may cause heart distress, is indicated by CRP. Homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood, may build up in the bloodstream, increasing the risk of heart attack. Lp(a) is a cholesterol-related risk factor that has a tendency to increase blood clotting.

Be on the lookout for extra heartbeats, chest pain, or shortness of breath. If you experience any of these symptoms, schedule for stress echocardiogram as soon as possible, to determine any significant reduction of blood flow to your heart. Always test your blood pressure as well, as high blood pressure is definitely a major factor in heart disease.

If you have are overweight, and/or have family history of diabetes, blood sugar level or other tests for diabetes are something you should not fail to take.

Pap Smear Test

Three years after becoming sexually active or by age 21, women need an annual pap test to detect any abnormal cell changes that could lead to cervical cancer. During a Pap test, a sample of cells is swabbed from the surface of the cervix and examined for abnormalities that may indicate the presence of cancer or the possibility of cancer occurring.

It is recommended to maintain annual testing until the age of 30. After 3 successive tests with satisfactory results, Pap smears may be done every two to three years from then on. However, women should still continue to see their gynecologist for examination regularly, at least once a year.

As a follow-up to an abnormal Pap test, women should take a human papillomavirus (HPV) test.  This virus is a common sexually transmitted infection that could lead to cervical cancer. This test will help determine whether one or more high-risk types of HPV caused the abnormal Pap test result. After 30, it is recommended that the HPV test be taken, not only after abnormal pap results, but regularly, along with the annual pap tests.

Mammogram

Women aged 40 should have a mammogram (breast x-ray) every one or two years.  If there is a history of breast cancer in the family, a woman should get her first mammogram 10 years before her relative was diagnosed. Unfortunately, this creates a strong psychological impact. Most women would rather not take the test than take it and find out they have breast cancer. But if the cancer is detected at an early stage, there is a 97 percent chance of being cured.

Women should also have annual palpation tests, where doctors feel for suspicious lumps. They may opt to learn how to perform this procedure properly so they can practice it at home.

Colonoscopy

Colon cancer is preventable and treatable. Colonoscopy allows a doctor to search for polyps or other unnatural growths which could eventually become cancerous. After a short process of preparation through diet and medication, the colon is cleansed, and a miniature digital camera is eased into the colon of a sedated patient. The video images are projected on an LCD screen, where the doctor can visually make observations on the interior colon walls.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that men and women with average risk of colorectal cancer should have a colonoscopy every ten years.

Skin Exam

Every woman should have their skin examined annually by a dermatologist, starting at 18 years of age. The doctor will search your body from head to toe for unusual brown or red spots.

Women should also try to do a self exam every month, checking even the scalp with a mirror. Look for new or unusual moles on your fingernails, toes and soles, and under arms. Inform your doctor of any suspicious finds.

Melanoma causes the most skin cancer deaths, and the number of cases is continually rising. Thus, it is wise to be on the lookout for usually overlooked tell-tale signs.