Health promotion and disease prevention are the cornerstones of a healthy society. Decades of research have changed the focus of medicine and healthcare from treating illness to preventing it in the first place.
We also now know that one size does not fit all in healthcare. Different groups of people have different health risks and needs. These groups may be defined by age, gender, social life, ethnicity, genetics, and many other characteristics. Women’s health is a specialized area of healthcare that directs attention to the specific needs of women, with the goal of preventing illness and giving you the information and tools to live a healthy and happy life.
What to Expect During a Regular Exam
During any routine woman’s health exam, the first thing you should expect is a discussion on your health history, including menstrual and reproductive history, any current problems you might be having, and a regular physical exam with the measurement of your weight and vital signs. After that, the rest of the visit will be designed to meet your specific needs.
For instance, the first screening for cervical cancer is recommended at age 21. This means you can expect a pelvic exam in which your provider will evaluate the health of your reproductive system and take a specimen to send to a lab to check for cervical cancer. If you have an IUD, your practitioner will evaluate its placement. As you get older, the pelvic exam may change, take on a different focus, or even be eliminated.
You can also be counseled on safe sex practices, the proper use of contraceptives, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, fertility issues or questions regarding pregnancy, and generally on a healthy lifestyle—healthy diet, avoidance of illicit drugs, or overindulgence in alcohol, no smoking, and regular exercise.
The Importance and Timing of Recommended Screening
During your annual women’s health exam, you will receive recommendations and reminders for the prevention of illnesses specific to women, as well as screening for any problems that may be occurring. The following is not all-inclusive, but an overview of many of the recommended screenings and health promotion tools.
- Cervical Cancer/HPV Screenings are recommended to identify precancer or early cancer when it is easier to treat. It is estimated that almost all cervical cancers, along with some other cancers, are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). For this reason, the HPV vaccine is strongly recommended at age 11-12 and before age 26. Cervical cancer screening should begin at age 21 and continue every 3 years until age 29. Then from age 30 to 65, cervical cancer screening should be continued every 3 years, or HPV testing or a combination of HPV and cervical cancer screening should be performed every 5 years. If you have had a hysterectomy but still have a cervix, the screening should continue as advised.
- Breast Cancer Screening in the form of a mammogram is recommended to begin at age 50, unless there is a family history of breast cancer, in which case, your provider will most likely recommend an earlier start date. Mammograms should be performed every 2 years unless otherwise recommended by your women’s health practitioner. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, and while the risk increases with age, it can occur at any age.
- BRCA1/2 Related Cancer Screening is recommended for women with a personal or family history of ovarian, breast, tubal, or peritoneal cancer, or who have an ancestor with BRCA gene mutations. If a simple risk assessment tool is positive, genetic counseling is recommended.
- HIV and STD Screening includes screening for a number of different sexually transmitted diseases. Screening for chlamydia and gonorrhea is recommended for women 24 years and younger who are sexually active. Depending on lifestyle, each routine visit may offer another opportunity for testing. Women older than 24 who have changed partners, have multiple partners or have partners who have other partners should also be screened regularly. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is recommended based on lifestyle and risk factors. Discuss whether or not you are at risk for HIV infection with your women’s health provider at your routine visit.
- Colorectal Screening is not only for women, but it is an important aspect of illness prevention. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States in women. Screening should begin at age 50 unless there is a history of colon cancer in your family. The colonoscopy is the gold standard, providing not only the most accurate information but also allowing the colorectal specialist the ability to remove polyps, which may be precancerous. Colonoscopies should be performed every 10 years until age 75 unless otherwise recommended by your provider.
- Osteoporosis Screening should be done with a bone density test for women 65 and older. The frequency of future screenings will be determined by your initial result and any risk factors you may have. Postmenopausal women who are younger than 65 but who have risk factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, previous fractures, and long-term use of steroids may begin screening at an earlier age.
Mental Health is as Important as Physical Health
About 12 million women in the United States are diagnosed with clinical depression each year, and about 12% of women will experience depression during their lifetime. While it can develop at any age, the most common age for women to develop depression is between 25 and 44. There are many reasons for depression and other mental health problems to occur. Women are juggling many things in today’s world—maintaining intimate relationships, raising children, building careers, doing volunteer work, maintaining social lives, and much more. Hormonal changes such as those associated with the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, the postpartum period, and menopause can all contribute to both anxiety and depression. Your women’s health provider is the perfect person to discuss any emotional distress you are experiencing. In fact, they may even screen for depression.
Guidance Throughout All Stages of a Woman’s Life
Throughout all stages of life, a woman’s healthcare needs change as their bodies and life circumstances change. Adolescents and young women are in need of guidance on healthy sexual practices, contraception, and prevention of illness. As they get older, fertility and pregnancy may become a prime focus. Younger and older women may have problems with their menstrual cycle, symptoms, and flow. Eventually, every woman will reach the premenopausal, menopausal, and postmenopausal stages of life. Older women may have problems with bladder prolapse, incontinence, and urinary tract infections, while younger women may deal with yeast infections.
Your women’s healthcare provider is the one person that can guide you throughout the stages of your life. They will meet your needs as a woman, while also reminding you to live a healthy lifestyle void of smoking and other hazardous activities and filled with nutrition and exercise.
Women’s Health Services in Kent, Washington
At Family Care of Kent, we believe in the importance of women’s health and your right to quality women’s healthcare. We treat our patients with the same compassion we would want for our loved ones.
If you would like more information about women’s healthcare and regular exams offered by our board-certified providers, please give us a call at (253) 859-2273 today or request an appointment online. Our exceptional providers are here to meet all of your women’s healthcare needs.