The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed how we receive health care. Early in the pandemic, wellness visits were canceled or postponed and many in-person appointments have since turned into telehealth visits.
Rebecca Baudoin, MD, Western OB/GYN, A Division of Ridgeview Clinics, encourages women to prioritize scheduling their recommended appointments. “No one will take care of you, except you! There will be no judgment about any delay; we just want to optimize your health and get screenings caught up,” Baudoin said.
When was the last time you had a wellness exam? Are there screenings you have missed due to the pandemic? Dr. Baudoin outlines nine important women’s health screenings.
- Pelvic exam. Pelvic exams are recommended beginning at age 21 to assess your cervix, uterus and ovaries. A Pap test is also recommended at age 21 for cervical cancer screening. When a woman reaches age 30, a human papillomavirus (HPV) test is recommended, which can be performed from the same swab as the Pap. This swab collect cells from the cervix to check for any abnormalities that could lead to cervical cancer. Both are repeated every one to three years, based on recent health history.
- Breast exam. Women should be familiar with their breasts in order to recognize any new lumps or changes. Your health care provider will perform a breast exam at your annual wellness appointment. If a lump or concerning tissue is found, they may order a non-routine mammogram or breast ultrasound as a precaution.
- Mammogram. A mammogram takes radiographic photos of your breast tissue and identifies changes and abnormalities. Dr. Baudoin recommends an annual mammogram for women beginning at age 40 to check for signs of breast cancer. A 3D mammogram is currently the best available technology in mammographic breast cancer screening. If your insurance only covers 2D mammograms, Dr. Baudoin suggests paying out-of-pocket for the difference in cost to still have the 3D images done―an option you might consider doing every other year.
- Skin cancer exam. Your health care provider will check your skin thoroughly for any new or suspicious moles or signs of skin cancer. You should pay close attention to the size, shape and texture of any mole you have and notify your provider of any changes.
- Blood pressure screening. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease. Your health care provider will check your blood pressure regularly at each wellness visit. Blood pressure numbers less than 120/80 are considered within the normal range.
- Cholesterol screening. Women over the age of 40 should have a blood test to check their cholesterol levels every five years. High cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the United States according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
- Diabetes screening. Women over the age of 40 should also have their blood screened for diabetes every three years. Dr. Baudoin advises that women who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy may need to be screened for diabetes and high cholesterol earlier than age 40.
- Colonoscopy. A colonoscopy uses a scope to view the inside of the colon and rectum. Early detection is crucial for discovering polyps and treating colon cancer. Women with average risk—those without personal or family history—should begin colonoscopy screenings at age 45.
- Osteoporosis screening. During and post-menopause, women’s bones may begin to weaken. A bone density test (DEXA) is suggested for women over 65 to check for osteoporosis. This test uses x-rays to measure the strength of the bones.
Regular wellness exams and health screenings are key to prevention. It’s important to talk with your health care provider about the role personal and family history may have on when and how often you should have these screenings. If you are due for your wellness visit, schedule an appointment at Western OB/GYN, A Division of Ridgeview Clinics.