Every year in October medical providers, health professionals and business partners all across the country focus attention on the need for women to understand the importance of early diagnosis of breast cancer.
To seek early diagnosis is universally good advice because it’s true no matter what disease or condition you might be concerned about. The earlier a problem is detected, the more easily and successfully it can be overcome.
But women’s health needs continue all year long and they are certainly not limited to breast cancer. Because medical knowledge and technology are constantly improving, the rules and guidelines for good health you may have learned years ago likely no longer apply.
The single best strategy you can follow to live a healthy life is to establish a relationship with a doctor and then visit that doctor regularly. The next step is that during those visits you need to share detailed information about what’s going on in your life and with your body.
The more information a doctor has about you, the better he can use his knowledge and training to help you effectively manage your health.
Based on these conversations, doctors use tests with proven technology to help identify specific problems, provide the proper treatment and offer sound advice.
When breast cancer is the issue, one of the best tools we doctors have in the detection effort is the imaging technology of the mammogram. Screening mammograms are simple, quick and painless procedures. Current recommendations are that women between the ages of 40-49 should have one of these tests every one or two years, and then every year once past the age of 50.
With cervical cancer, the recommendation is that women begin screening with a pap smear at age 21 regardless of their sexual history. Between ages 21-29, it is best to have another one every three years, and testing for the human papilloma virus (HPV) should not be used in this age group.
Between the ages of 30 and 65, women should have a combined pap smear and HPV testing every five years, with the pap smear alone every three years. After age 65, if there is an adequate history of negative screening results, pap smears are no longer recommended except for those who are otherwise in groups at high risk for cervical cancer.
At this point, there are no screening tools for endometrial disease, ovarian or vulvar cancer, which creates great risk to those patients of presenting their information to a doctor so late that treatment options are limited, complex and often expensive.
These issues will be discussed in greater detail at this month’s “Lunch-n-Learn” program at the hospital on Friday.
Osama Amro, MD, is an obstetrician/gynecologist at the ARH Daniel Boone Clinic in Harlan.