By Dr. Deborah Young

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Regular check-ups and routine tests are important. They provide a road map for managing your health, and help you make informed decisions about the necessary nutrients, activity level, and any medications or medical treatment you may need to maintain your best health.

Women lead full and busy lives. Often, doctor’s appointments take a back seat to other commitments because it’s hard to find the time. Pottstown Memorial Medical Center recommends all women — daughters, sisters and mothers everywhere – schedule a check-up, or encourage a friend or loved one to do so.

Dr. Deborah Young.

Dr. Deborah Young.

Certain health issues are a matter of individual health and heredity. If a specific condition runs in your family – from high cholesterol to cancer – your doctor may recommend earlier and more frequent tests to stay well ahead of, and reduce the likelihood of developing, various health conditions.

At various stages of your life, staying on top of your health promotes peace of mind, as well as identifies any potential health issues early, when they are easier to treat.
Besides the basic vision check and dental exam, your primer to preventive care should include the following tests …

Pap Test

Why: All women should have an annual pap test to screen for cervical cancer. The test collects cells from the cervix and examines them for any changes that may indicate the possibility of cancer.

When: Beginning at age 20 or the onset of sexual activity, and continuing after menopause until age 65 to 70. Pap tests should be repeated at least every three years, or annually if recommended by your doctor based on your age, lifestyle, reproductive health and heredity. At age 65 to 70, if you have had three normal tests and no abnormalities for the 10-year prior period, your doctor may discontinue testing.

Cholesterol Screening

Why: High cholesterol has no symptoms but can have serious health consequences, from heart attack to stroke. Your reading will include LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or “bad” cholesterol, and HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or “good” cholesterol. Excess LDL cholesterol can cause build-up in the arteries, interfering with blood flow to the heart and brain. HDL cholesterol has protective qualities because of its ability to remove LDL from the blood.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, “safe” total cholesterol level is 200 mg/dL. Scores above 200 indicate increased risk of developing heart disease and over 240, high risk. Strive for an LDL cholesterol level of less than 130 mg/dL; less than 100 mg/dL is ideal.

The AHA and the American Diabetes Association recommend HDL of at least 50 mg/dL for women, with 60 mg/dL or above as ideal. An important score is your HDL-to-LDL ratio, which should be above 0.4.

When: Schedule your first cholesterol test at age 20 and repeat the test at least every five years until age 45. If you are 45 or older, have a family history of heart disease, or have a total cholesterol level of over 200, get an annual screening.

Clinical Breast Exam And Mammogram

Why: A clinical breast exam monitors your breast tissue for lumps, thickening or any other changes that warrant follow-up. A mammogram is an x-ray that shows a detailed picture of the breast tissue – and it can detect breast cancer one to three years before you actually feel a lump in your breast, according to the Mayo Clinic. Your doctor may recommend a breast ultrasound or MRI for a closer look at any changes. This helps locate breast cancer at its earliest – and most treatable – stage.

When: Annual clinical breast exams should begin by age 30 and be performed at least every three years. Schedule your first mammogram by age 40 and have one annually, unless your doctor instructs you to return more frequently.

Skin Cancer Screening

Why: Skin cancer is the second most-common cancer in women behind breast cancer, and is nearly 100 percent curable if caught early. Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, in both women and men, accounting for nearly half of all cancers in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Basal and squamous cell cancers are very curable, as is melanoma, the deadliest form, if caught and treated properly before it spreads to other body parts.

When: Schedule first head-to-toe screening with your dermatologist, or primary care provider, by age 30, and annually thereafter or more frequently if you are at high risk, with fair skin, repeated sunburns, many moles, or a family history.

Thyroid Screening

Why: The thyroid is a tiny, but important gland that produces hormones that regulate the way your body uses energy. Sometimes, a person can develop hyperthyroidism, a condition in which too much thyroid hormone is produced, or hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid where there is production of too little thyroid hormone. In both situations, the body’s delicate balance is upset and serious health consequences can occur.

Symptoms include rapid weight gain or loss, excessive fatigue or insomnia and anxiety, hair loss, and memory problems. A simple blood test can assure your thyroid is working properly. Also, early diagnosis can avoid more costly and debilitating conditions ranging from heart disease to high cholesterol to stroke, that result from untreated thyroid disease.

When: Beginning at age 35, and every five years, or more often if you have thyroid symptoms or risk factors, such as family history.

Make your health a priority and, if these tests aren’t already a part of your overall health care plan, talk to your doctor about the right time to begin. Also, raise any concerns, issues or questions you may have. Focusing on good preventive health habits now will build good habits for a lifetime, and give you information about your personal health that will help you to make good decisions about your lifestyle and activities.

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Dr. Deborah Young, who is in practice with Limerick Family Care, 296 West Ridge Pike, Limerick PA, on behalf of the Healthy Woman program at Pottstown Memorial Medical Center (PMMC) . It is the first installment in a two-part series exploring health tests that are important for women at various stages of life. PMMC supplied this article and is responsible for its content. Its publication is part of The Post’s Sunday Contributor series, for which guest authors are invited to offer submissions.

If you’d like to become a Sunday Contributor, please e-mail The Post.

Dr. Young’s photo supplied by PMMC

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