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Health Screenings for Women: 5 for Life

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Health Screenings for Women: 5 for Life

Feb 07, 2020

With all the health and wellness information out there, how do you know which tests you should do when? Women's health expert Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones talks about the 5 for Life program: the five most important screenings and tests every woman should have.

Episode Transcript

What are the five threats to a woman's health? You might be surprised at what you learn. Today I'll tell you about the five for life, the five most important screenings and tests every woman needs to get and when you should get them.

For a lot of women, their priority is to take care of everyone else; your family, your work, your community, but you neglect taking care of yourself. That's why today I'm going to make it easier by telling you about the five for life. The five most important screenings you need. You should know how you stand on each one of these. Your cholesterol, your pap smear, your mammogram, your colonoscopy and you skin, testing and assessing all these for health is very important and you might be surprised at some of the things you hear.

Screening #1: Cholesterol

Women have always thought that heart disease was a man's disease. But after the age of 70, more women die from heart disease than men. Heart disease is the number one killer of women. And heart disease can be prevented if you control your cholesterol. So you should know what your cholesterol is, it should be tested by the time you're in your 40s and then every five years after that. Preventing high cholesterol or treating high cholesterol can save your heart. So even if you eat right and exercise and do all the things that you know you should do, most of what your cholesterol is doing and why it's doing it comes from your genes. You can do everything right and still have a high cholesterol.

Screening #2: Pap smear

It turns out that pap smears are very cheap, and although women don't like them, very easy to do and no one ever died from a pap smear. Even though you might think you might. Pap smears are, they are to detect cervical cancer. Cervical cancer isn't very common, only about 1 in 100, to 1 in 200 will get it. But it's treatable in its precancerous state and the screening test, a pap smear, picks up cancer before its cancer. So easy test and it's cheap, every woman should get one. Every woman should get one by the time you're 21, and then every couple years, but after you've had 3 normal pap smears you only need to get them every 3 years. Prevent it before it becomes cancer.

Screening #3: Mammogram

Women think that breast cancer is automatically a death sentence and that's not true. Breast cancer, if detected before it's advanced, is very curable and women who have their breast cancers detected by mammography only, no lumps yet, will have a 97% chance of surviving. So if you're going to detect it early you have to get your mammogram. There are controversies about when and how often but suffice it to say that at 50 you should have had a mammogram and then every year to two after that. High risk women, women who have a mom or a sister who've had breast cancer or who've had breast cancer before, should have their mammograms earlier and more often.

Screening #4: Colonoscopy

The Katie Couric test. Did you know that 1 out of 16 women are going to get colon cancer. Now that's actually more common than most people think it would be and colon cancer, like cervical cancer, has a precancerous stage that can be treated before it becomes cancer. So by 50, you should have the colonoscopy. Now it's another test that you don't want to do and it's a private test and it's yucky. However, it's not that bad, they give you some really fun juice to make you not be worried about it and it's much easier than your friends and family have told you.

Screening #5: Skin

Well, you look at your arms and you look at your face, but there are places on your skin that you can't see. And particularly in Utah, where people have been exposed to bright sunlight in the summer, we have more skin cancers as we age. So there are some skin cancers which are very deadly, those dark melanoma skin cancers which should be picked up early. So skin cancer is not a death sentence, in fact, skin cancers are the most common cancers in men and in women, and picked up early they can be removed with minimal surgery, but you have to pick them up, so somebody has to look at your skin and has to look at your skin all over. And that doesn't mean your honey. So your dermatologist should look at your skin.

The most important thing a woman can do about the five for life is, do them. Get a friend, do it together, grab your daughter, grab your mother, spend a day, do them and then go out to lunch, or go out to lunch, oh no, the colonoscopy, you have to get the lunch after the colonoscopy, not before. So get a friend and just make a day of it. Get all five done and then you're done, for at least maybe three years. Once every three years you should take care of yourself, and to do that, you can do the five for life in one half day through University of Utah Health Care, or talk to your doctor about what's appropriate screening for you when you go in for anyone of a number of issues. Say when should I be screened for these five things? The five for life. Your cholesterol, your pap smear, your mammogram, your colonoscopy and your skin screen. The five for life can save your life.

updated: February 7, 2020
originally published: September 25, 2013