Five Essential Tests Women Need to Undergo as They Grow Older

They say age is just a number, but that’s not always the case. Sadly, age not only comes with wisdom but it is also associated with various medical conditions that can cause constant trips to the hospitals, lab tests and sometimes, even cost lives. With constant vigilance and monitoring, that shouldn’t have to be the case. Here are five essential laboratory procedures that women need to go through as they age. 

1. Breast Examination

According to American Cancer Society, about 40,000 women die of breast cancer each year but it’s been proven that early detection of breast cancer greatly improves the odds for survival because the smaller the cancer is when discovered, the better the chances of recovery when treated. Earlier stages of breast cancer are also less likely to spread to the lymph nodes and other organs in the body. Doctors advocate breast self-examination and a clinical breast exam by your doctor should be part of your regular check up. The American Cancer Society recommends yearly screening for women at average risk age of 40. If you’re age is from 50-74,  you should have mammograms every two years. Mammograms, typically through detection of characteristic masses and tiny specks of mineral deposits scattered  throughout the mammary glands, can detect early stages of breast cancer.

2. Pap Smear Test

A pap smear detects cancer of the cervix – the part of the uterus that extends into the vaginal cavity. Most cases of cervical cancer can be prevented by regular Pap tests. Cervical cancer’s major risk factor is caused by persistent infection by the human papilloma virus (HPV). Routine screening as early as the age of 21 can find it early, when it’s highly curable. It can also find precancerous cells on the surface of the cervix so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.  During a pap test, the doctor collects  a sample of your cells from your cervix, which are to be studied to find out if they are precancerous or cancer cells. Talk to your doctor about vaccines that can protect you and people you love from the different strains of HPV.

3. Bone Density Test

The first symptoms of osteoporosis is often a painful bone fracture that can occur with even just a minor fall, blow or even just a twist of the body.  Osteoporosis causes a decrease in bone mass, often referred to as thinning of bone. When this occurs, the patient with osteoporosis will have weaker bones thus the high risk of bone fracture.

A test called Dual Energy Xray Absorptiometry  can measure bone mineral density and can detect osteoporosis before fracture occur. It is considered the most accurate test for bone density. While standard x-rays show changes in bone density after about 40% of bone loss, a DEXA scan can detect changes after about a 1% change. Bone density testing is recommended for all women 65 years of age and older. It’s also recommended for middle aged women younger than 65 who have sedentary lifestyles, thin or small-framed, have a family history of osteoporosis and those who smoke and  drink alcohol excessively.

4. Glaucoma Screening

Glaucoma can result  in blindness due to damage to the optic nerve.

How often you should have an eye exam depends on your age and risk factors. African Americans, people older than 60, women with family history of glaucoma, eye injury , steroid use  and nearsightedness are risk factors. Regular glaucoma checkups include two routine eye tests: tonometry, which uses a special device to measure the pressure within the eye and opthalmoscopy, which is used to look at the inside of the eye, especially the optic nerve. If one of these tests is abnormal, further testing may be required to confirm a diagnosis of glaucoma. Additional tests may include visual field testing (perimetry) to map the field of vision and gonioscopy, a procedure to examine the anatomy of the drainage area of the eye.

For healthy individuals under 40 or those without any known risks, routine screening every two to four years is recommended.

 5. Colonoscopy

Colonoscopy is a common screening test for colorectal cancer, the second most cause of death for cancer related mortalities, and  in women it ranks third after lung and breast cancer.

The majority of colon cancers develop from common polyps that are growths on the inner surface of the colon. After cancer develops, it can invade or spread to the other parts of the body. The way to prevent colon cancer is to remove colon polyps before they turn cancerous.

During colonoscopy procedure, a doctor views the entire colon using a flexible tube and a camera. Polyps can be removed at the time of the test. A similar alternative is a flexible sigmoidoscopy  that examines only the lower part of the colon. People who are at risk are those who have a family history of colorectal cancer, those that have high fat intake, and those who have polyps and inflamed large intestines.

If you are at risk, have yourself screened specially if you have reached 50.


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