by Dr Agilan Arjunan, Fertility Specialist & Gynaecologist, evelyn Fertility & Women Specialist Clinic, Petaling Jaya ( Malaysia)
Published in The Star newspaper : https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/health/2023/05/04/six-essential-health-screening-tests-for-women
6 Health Screening Test All Women Should Do
In our day to day busy schedule and commitments we tend to overlook an important priority, our health. As our task list gets longer each day, health tends to get push down the list.Women have become a great asset to our countries growth and work force. However, with their busy schedule, health is becoming the last concern in a women’s mind. Health screening empowers a women and builds confidence towards a brighter future. In this article I have listed down 6 important health screening tests that a woman should do yearly.
Cervical Screening (Pap Smear) + HPV Testing
Cervical screening or more commonly known as pap smear is a simple test to look for any abnormality affecting your cervix (neck of womb) which may predispose or increase your likelihood of developing cervical cancer. This is a very simple test which is done anytime in your menstrual cycle as long as you are not in the bleeding phase. The test is recommended for women between the age of 20-65 years old who are sexually active. If the result is normal you can repeat the test yearly for the first two years and 3 yearly thereafter. However, if the results turn out to be abnormal, do not worry because most of the abnormalities are transient and can be treated completely. Consult a gynaecologist if your cervical smear test is abnormal. In recent years, testing for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV testing) is combined with a cervical screening test. In fact, HPV testing is done from the same sample taken for cervical smear.
If you are tested positive for HPV high risk strains, it does not mean that you will develop cervical cancer. It just means that you should strictly adhere to the cervical smear screening schedule. Your doctor will thoroughly investigate any abnormalities found during a routine cervical smear screening and inform you on the next course of action. In summary, every women above the age of 20 years old and who are sexually active should do a cervical smear screening, with or without the additional HPV screening.
Gynaecology Ultrasound Scan
During the clinic visit for cervical screening, you can get a pelvic ultrasound scan done at the same setting. This scan is done either abdominally or via a transvaginal route. The pelvic scan aims to look for structural abnormalities in a woman’s pelvis such as a uterine fibroid or an ovarian cyst. Most of the uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts are asymptomatic, which means they do not pose any problem at all to a woman and are only found during a routine screening.
The treatment options for uterine fibroid and ovarian cyst range from doing nothing, whereby surveillance is done with repeat pelvic ultrasound scan as part of the observation to either medical treatment or surgical treatment.
The treatment choice will depend on the location, size and if you have started developing any symptoms due to the fibroid or ovarian cyst. Common symptoms are pelvic pain, urinary frequency (passing urine more frequent than usual), heavy and irregular menses and feeling of fullness in pelvis. Your gynaecologist will discuss the most suitable intervention required based on the assessment.
Breast Cancer Screening
Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women globally. Breast cancer screening actually starts at home with breast self-examination as early as 18 years of age. After the age of 40 years, breast mammogram screening test is recommended every 1-2 yearly.
Breast ultrasound and breast MRI are other methods available for breast screening with their own inherent advantages and disadvantages. The screening method and interval is also dependant on your own risk factor for developing breast cancer.
Speak to you doctor regarding the appropriate breast screening method for you.
General Blood Screening
Blood screening test by far is the most common health screening test. There are numerous blood screening packages available in clinics and hospitals , also by various independent laboratories.
This poses a real problem to consumers because they might be wondering how many tests do they need to do. Does this mean more the better?
There are two sides of argument to this statement. More comprehensive the tests is, there is a higher likelihood to pick up early abnormalities and early interventions can be started. However, every test done has its own false-positivity, this is when the test shows an abnormal result when there is no actual problem. This false positive result starts a cascade of further unnecessary tests. Needless to mention the amount of mental stress it causes to the person involved.
In summary, get a general blood screening that encompass important non-communicable conditions such as the haemoglobin level, kidney function, liver function, cholesterol level and fasting blood sugar. Additional blood screening parameters can be done based on your own risk factors for certain disease.
Bone Mass Density
Bone mass density or bone mineral density (BMD) screening is important for older women especially after menopause. In view of the significant decline in the level of female hormone, women begin to loose their bone density. A central DXA scan is a common test used for bone health. It is like an x-ray for your bone and is commonly targeted at the spine, hip and sometimes forearm.
The BMD test is important for younger women if they are on long term steroid medications and has signs of loss of height, suffered a fracture or they are going through a cancer treatment which reduces the oestrogen hormone level significantly.
Blood Pressure & BMI monitoring
This is the most simplest health screening tests that can be done even at home by most woman. If you are at high risk of developing hypertension, you can measure your own blood pressure at home regularly. Seek medical help if your blood pressure is more than 140/90 mmHg in more than two occasions.
Body mass index ( BMI) is measured using your weight and height. The formula for BMI = kg/m2, where kg is your weight and m2 is your height in metre squared. A BMI of more than 25 kg/m2 is considered overweight.
These are the most important 6 health screening tests that a woman need. However busy your life is, spend a moment to look after yourself as it goes a long way for self care. Take a look back at your task list and shift the health screening to top of the list today.