Health Q&A

Medical Screening Tests That Every Woman Needs

August 1, 2018

Prevention is better than cure

Medical screening tests for women are important. They are necessary to ensure good health and early disease detection. Catching a health problem early offers you the best chance for effective treatment, maintenance or recovery. Unfortunately, many women do not follow the recommended clinical exam guidelines for preventative screening tests.

These tests can help decrease your risk of developing a serious illness, or can detect abnormalities before symptoms even present. The type of medical tests recommended will depend on your age, family medical history and specific risk factors. Some of these can be administered through self-examinations and others by a health care practitioner. These are the most important medical screening tests for women:

Medical screening tests for women

1.Breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer for women in South Africa. An estimated 1 in 26 women will be diagnosed during their lifetime. Breast cancer can be beaten but early detection is key to recovery. CANSA indicates that early detection can allow for up to a 95% chance of successful treatment. The disease is most common in women over the age of 50, but younger women can be affected too. Symptoms of breast cancer include:

• A lump in the breast or armpit
• Swelling of the breast
• Breast skin irritation or dimpling
• Breast or nipple pain
• Nipple retraction
• Redness, scaling or thickening of the breast or nipple
• Nipple discharge
• Change in size or shape of the breast
• Swollen lymph nodes

Check for breast cancer lumps with:

• Regular self-breast examinations
• Clinical breast exams with healthcare practitioners from the age of 20
Mammograms from the age of 40

2. Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is the second most prevalent form of cancer for women in South Africa with an estimated 1 in 42 women being diagnosed during their lifetime. Cervical cancer is caused by a virus known as Human Papillomavirus (HPV). It’s essential for women who are sexually active to have a check-up that includes a cervical smear or pap smear.

3. Sexually transmitted diseases

A pap smear will also allow the physician to check for sexually transmitted diseases like HPV, which causes cervical malignancies, as well as STIs like gonorrhoea and chlamydia. STIs can have serious health implications if left untreated so it’s recommended that all women who are sexually active have an annual STI check-up.

4. Osteoporosis

Research shows that between four and six million South Africans are affected by osteoporosis with 1 in 3 women developing the condition during their lifetime. Osteoporosis is a progressive disease where bone deteriorates over time leaving you with brittle bones. Women who are postmenopausal, are over 65, or who have a low oestrogen level are particularly at risk. A bone mineral density test can ascertain the amount of mineral present in your bone tissue.

5. Skin cancer

Skin cancer can be successfully treated provided it’s detected early. Those at risk include women with an inherited fair complexion or those who experience excessive exposure to the sun. There are generally two types of skin cancers:basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Skin cancer or cancerous moles can be identified through colour, size or shape. Check for this disease by:

• Administering a skin spot self-examination
• Having a clinical skin or mole mapping test
• Having a skin biopsy

6. High blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when your blood pressure (the force of blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels) is consistently high. This can increase your risk of developing atherosclerosis,  which can cause a heart attack or stroke. Those at risk are women with a high body mass index (BMI), poor diet and lifestyle habits; and those who have a family history of the condition. It’s recommended that women have regular blood pressure check-ups at their local clinics, pharmacies or doctor’s rooms.

7. Cholesterol levels

There is a notable link between high cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease. High cholesterol is the level of LDL present in your blood. If it’s too high it can cause atherosclerosis. Those at risk include women with a high BMI, poor diet and lifestyle habits; and those who have a family history of the condition. Cholesterol levels should be regularly tested from the age of 45.

8. Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition characterised by elevated blood sugar levels due to impaired utilisation of insulin. Type II Diabetes is one of the leading causes of blindness, kidney disease, heart disease and stroke. Those at risk include women with a high BMI, poor diet and those with a family history of the disease. A blood glucose test is used to test for Type II Diabetes.

9. HIV

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS. HIV can be present in the body for several years before symptoms present so it’s essential to have regular check-ups. Early diagnosis can assist in boosting your immune system and managing the virus. Having regular HIV blood tests is recommended for women who are sexually active.

10. Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a condition where there is a build-up of pressure inside the eye. Left untreated, this can lead to irreparable damage of the optic nerve, which can result in blindness. It’s recommended that all women have a baseline eye exam before the age of 40 and more regularly thereafter.

A medical screening test for women is the first step to identifying a disease or condition that could pose a serious health risk. At Topmed we’re committed to best health practices so encourage you to follow the recommended screening guidelines that can assist with early detection and effective treatment. Topmed’s Wellness Benefit allows you access to certain preventative screening tests which are payable from Topmed’s Major Medical Benefit, thus extending your day-to-day benefits. Get in touch today and sign up for cover for yourself and your family.

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