So you’ve probably put off going to the doctor the last few months – Covid-19 was a great excuse, but let’s face it not many women enjoy the trip to the gynaecologist. Something about the exam and the anxiety of finding something wrong makes women postpone the all-important appointment.
What exams are really needed for a woman to keep herself healthy?
The answer is age-dependent. The younger you are the less your need in terms of preventive care.
Preventive care basics:
Screening tests vs. diagnostic tests: diagnostic tests tell you “yes” you have a specific disease or “no” you do not have a specific disease. Many times your doctor starts with a “screening test,” which tells you if you have a high likelihood of having a disease or not. If you have a high likelihood of having a particular disease then you move on to a diagnostic test.
The Pap smear (aka smear test or Pap) is a screening test for cervical cancer. As a screening test, it does not tell you that you definitely have cervical cancer, but rather can tell you if you have a high likelihood of having cervical “pre-cancer.” The idea is to identify pre-cancer early on and treat it before it becomes cancer.
Mammograms are screening tests for breast cancer. A mammogram can pick up breast cancer three years before you actually feel a lump in your breast. A mammogram does not diagnose breast cancer but rather alerts your doctor to abnormalities in your breasts that would then require a biopsy to detect cancer.
I usually recommend that women follow whatever screening protocol is done in their home country. This is a discussion to have with your doctor to take into consideration various factors.
Other screening tests are the basics of having your blood pressure taken when you go to the doctor, and checking your body mass index (height and weight). Your doctor should also enquire about habits like cigarette smoking, drinking alcohol and exercising. Again, the goal is to identify problems and take action before you become sick from common diseases like high blood pressure, obesity and depression.
With Covid-19 doctors should also ask questions about immunizations. All adults should be up to date on common immunizations for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap vaccine), measles, mumps and rubella (MMR vaccine) and the flu vaccine. If you were to get one of these infectious diseases this could lower your immunity and put you at risk of getting Covid. You would also not want to put your family at risk of getting these diseases.