Medical research over the past decade has led to breakthroughs in the prevention and treatment of cancer, diabetes, AIDS, and other conditions. Additionally, medical discoveries have also challenged long-held beliefs about disease screening. As a result of the fast-paced nature of medical research, it is not uncommon to read about conflicting or surprising findings, especially in the area of women’s health. New discoveries have led doctors to believe that screenings such as Pap smears should be conducted less frequently than previously thought. It is understandably confusing to figure out how frequently you should have a health screening. Therefore, women should meet with their gynecologist to come up with an individualized examination schedule that promotes good health.
Not long ago, doctors recommended that female patients have an annual Pap smear to screen for cervical cancer along with their yearly pelvic examination. In 2012, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), along with the American Cancer Association and the U.S. Preventative Task Force suggested that most women could go three years between Pap smears. Following this suggestion, medical experts began to ask whether the annual well-woman exam was necessary, particularly in women with no symptoms.
Whether you should keep an annual appointment with your gynecologist is a decision that should be made following a discussion with your doctor. You should take into consideration the other health checks that occur during your annual well-woman visit before dismissing it. Your gynecologist will check your blood pressure, weight, provide immunizations, check for sexually transmitted diseases, perform a clinical breast exam, and order any other tests he or she feels are appropriate. He or she can also discuss your reproductive health.
Additionally, most women are used to getting a Pap smear annually, so they are likely to keep making that appointment with a physician who is familiar with their history. For women who are otherwise healthy, this may be the only time they see a doctor over the course of the year. A regular exam with a doctor familiar with your history and lifestyle can help detect any problems early while they are easy to treat.
In addition to your well-woman exam, you should also periodically screen for cholesterol, diabetes, and colon cancer. The frequency of these tests will depend on your age and history. Some disease screenings do not require an office visit. Women should conduct a monthly breast self-exam, and a skin self-exam. Your gynecologist can teach you how to properly check your breasts for lumps or suspicious masses. The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests that you do a monthly check for changes in moles or new growths, which could be a sign of skin cancer. Finally, women who are not in monogamous relationships should also have annual screenings for HIV and other STDs, which can be conducted at a community clinic, and often for free.
Wonderful medical breakthroughs are made almost every day. They will likely result in an even better understanding of the human body and the way we treat diseases. Even then, a personalized screening schedule you discuss with your physician will help keep you in top physical condition.