With Internal Medicine specialist Lindsey Finnegan, MD
The best way for women to stay on top of their health is to be proactive. Schedule yearly checkups and recommended screenings when they are due. Don’t wait until a health issue pops up to see your doctor.
“From routine physicals to advanced cancer screenings, it’s all about ensuring the patient has the best chance to be their healthiest self, no matter what life brings,” said Lindsey Finnegan, MD, an internal medicine and pediatrics specialist with Sarasota Memorial’s First Physicians Group. “We screen to reduce disease and death rates or complications that could occur from an undiagnosed condition.”
Keep your health and wellness on track by following recommended screening guidelines. Below is general guidance for women’s health screenings — who, what and when — but be sure to talk to your healthcare providers about the screening schedule that’s right for you.
Start with the Basics — and a Baseline
Annual Checkups: Seeing your primary-care doctor for a yearly, routine visit allows you and your physician to establish a medical history and determine a health baseline — what’s “normal” for your unique body and health — so you’ll know if something changes year-to-year. These annual physicals also allow you to catch potentially serious diseases or conditions early, when they’re most treatable.
Cholesterol Tests: Did you know that high cholesterol can lead to a serious cardiac event or stroke? Yet it rarely presents symptoms. That’s why health experts recommend that women get the simple blood that screens for high cholesterol starting at age 20, and then once every 5 years, unless directed otherwise by a physician.
Bone Density: Women should begin bone density testing for early signs of osteoporosis starting at age 65; the first bone density test is often in conjunction with your first Medicare wellness visit. Using X-ray technology, doctors guage how thick or thin the bones are. After your first bone density test, talk to your doctor about how often you should have followup screenins; this will range from every 2 to 5 years, depending on your previous results and medical conditions.
Diabetes: Medical experts recommend women be screened for diabetes starting around age 45, unless increased risk factors dictate starting routine diabetes testing at a younger age.
Early Cancer Detection Saves Lives
In the U.S., 1 in 3 women will develop invasive cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. Finding cancer early — through regular screening — gives you the best shot at beating it.
Check out the general cancer-screening guidelines below, and work with your doctor to develop a screening schedule that’s right for you. Screening recommendations may vary based on medical history, history of cancer or other risk factors.
Cervical Cancer: Cervical cancer risk increases with age, but regular screenings can prevent it or find it early. Typically beginning at age 21, all women should have regular Pap test to look for signs of cervical cancer, and they should also be tested for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) beginning at age 30. These recommendations apply even for women who have already been vaccinated against HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that significantly increases cervical cancer risk. How often you should get a Pap smear and HPV test depends on many factors, so talk to your healthcare provider about an appropriate schedule for you.
HPV & Cervical Cancer
A sexually transmitted disease, human papillomavirus (HPV) infection markedly increases a woman’s chance of developing cervical cancer, making the HPV vaccine an important part of a woman’s preventative care. The vaccine comprises a series of shots that can be given starting at age 9 but is more typically started around age 11. However, it’s important to note that the HPV vaccine is recommended for adults through age 45. Men and women younger than 45 who aren't yet vaccinated against HPV should talk with their doctor about getting the HPV vaccine as soon as possible.
Breast Cancer: The most common early detection tool for breast cancer is the routine screening mammogram. The Sarasota Memorial breast cancer care team recommends that all women ages 40 and older have a screening mammogram and a clinical breast exam every year and that women ages 25 to 39 have a clinical breast exam every 1 to 3 years. These recommendations may vary for women who have a history of breast cancer or an increased risk of developing breast cancer, so be sure to talk with your gynecologist and primary care physician to develop a screening schedule that’s best for you. (If you or someone you know is uninsured or cannot afford a mammogram, breast ultrasound, breast biopsy or other breast health service, call our Breast Health Grant Support Program for assistance: 941-917-7642.)
Colon Cancer: Colon cancer is estimated to be the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer among men and women ages 30 to 39 in the U.S. this year, according to GI cancer specialists at our Brian D. Jellison Cancer Institute. Screening for colon cancer should begin at age 45, followed by regular colonoscopies every 10 years — unless you experience warning signs, such as persistent lower abdominal pain, bloody stool or changes in bowel habits.
Lung Cancer: Newly updated guidelines from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force advise women to undergo annual lung cancer screening if they are: 50 to 80 years old, have a 20-pack-year history of smoking tobacco, and currently smoke or quit smoking in the last 15 years. Using low-dose computed tomography (LDCT), doctors look for early signs of lung cancer in the chest. The LDCT procedure is fast, painless and noninvasive; no contrast material is required and no radiation remains in a patient's body. The biggest benefit of LDCT is detecting lung cancer early, when the chances of being cured are higher. Click here to learn more.
When it comes to cancer and chronic health conditions, prevention and early detection are key. Don’t put your health on hold. Talk to your doctor today about preventative health maintenance and how you can get on track for a regular screening schedule.
Written by Sarasota Memorial Copywriter Phil Lederer, who crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. He earned his master’s degree in public administration and political philosophy from Morehead State University, Ky.