The Importance of Prevention Screening (Mammograms, Pap Smears, Self Breast Exams 101)
Keeping up with your healthcare can be intimidating, especially when it comes to scary topics like cancer screenings. Maybe you know you should get them, but you don’t know all the facts about when to get what, what to be looking for and if you even need them at your age. The most important thing is to be educated on what screening methods are out there and the research-based recommendations for when screenings should be conducted.
Let’s break it down:
1️⃣Pap Smears + HPV Testing. Ah, everyone’s favorite, the gynecologist. Nobody likes the gyno but making sure you’re up-to- date with your screening and being familiar with the pap smear and HPV testing is an important part to staying healthy. So, what are they even looking for? The pap smear is looking for precancerous and cancerous cells on the cervix while HPV testing is looking for HPV strains 16 and 18 that can potentially lead to cervical cancer.
The US Preventative Services Tasks Force (USPSTF) breaks down the guidelines as the following:
➖Ages 21-29: Every 3 years should be getting the pap smear alone (no HPV testing indicated).
➖Ages 30-65: Every 3 years should be getting the pap smear alone OR every 5 years be getting the pap smear along with HPV testing.
Women under age 21 and over age 65 are not recommended to get testing. HPV testing is introduced at age 30 since most HPV infections before this age typically go away on their own.
2️⃣Self-Breast Exams. Ladies, get to know your ta-tas! Performing a self-breast exam regularly helps you to get to know your breasts and will allow you to notice if anything changes that may warrant a trip to the doctor. Here’s what to look out for:
➖Dimpling, puckering or any bulging of the skin
➖A nipple that has changed position or inverted
➖Redness, soreness, rash or swelling
Then, feel your breasts using the opposite pads of your fingers (if you're feeling your left breast use your right hand). Go in circular motions covering the area from the armpit to your cleavage. Repeat the process while lying down and standing up.
3️⃣Mammograms. Mammograms are currently under hot water with research questioning the benefits vs the harm of getting an annual mammogram, as mammograms admit radiation during the test just like an x-ray would. As of 2015, the American Cancer Society recommends women ages 45 to 54 should get a mammogram every year, while women ages 55+ should get a mammogram every 2 years. Women younger than age 45 should have the choice to begin screening earlier depending on their health history and risk factors.
* Always consult with your physician to address any risk factors that may alter your personal screening guidelines