Annual well-woman exams are important to maintaining a happy, healthy lifestyle and preventing infection, disease or other abnormalities. Since early detection is important in treating nearly every condition, especially diseases like cancer, regular exams can help spot any abnormalities right away.
A gynecological exam, breast exam and Pap smear are recommended each year for women who are sexually active or over the age of 18. During these exams, your doctor will check for signs of breast cancer, cervical cancer, STDs, infections or other abnormalities.
Well woman care is one of the most important steps you can take in preventing disease.
The PAP Test
A pap test is a screening for cervical cancer. It is a standard gynecological procedure that examines your cervix for changes or abnormalities. It can also detect infections and the human papillomavirus (HPV). A pap test is recommended every year for women over the age of 21 and slightly less frequently for women over 30. A pap test collects cells from your cervix. The cells are sent to a laboratory for testing. Regular Pap tests detect problems quickly and rule out mistakes made by false positive and false negative results.
Genital human papillomavirus, also known as HPV, is a sexually transmitted viral infection. There are more than 40 different kinds of HPV that can infect the genitalia, mouth and throats of men and women. For some people, the immune system will remove the infection over the course of two years. While for others, HPV may lead to genital warts or cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina and anus.
It is recommended that a woman examine her breasts on her own once a month, usually about a week after her menstrual period, to identify any changes or abnormalities such as lumps, swelling, irritation or pain. A woman who is no longer menstruating should check her breasts on the same day each month. Breast self-exams are not officially recommended as a screening tool for breast cancer because their success in detecting early-stage cancers and increasing the survival rate have not been proven. But, by becoming familiar with the way her breasts normally look and feel, a woman may recognize changes indicating an abnormality.
A mammogram is an X-ray examination of the breast. It is performed to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages, often before any signs or symptoms of the disease are present. Mammograms are an effective way to detect cancer early and can aid in the goal of successfully treating and beating the disease.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Most sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, have no symptoms, especially in women, so it is difficult to know if you have been infected. Periodic testing is recommended for anyone with multiple sexual partners, even if they are having protected sex. Condoms are the only form of contraception that protects against STDs. It is important to have a conversation with your partner and ask them if they have ever had a sexually transmitted disease. Our practice offers safe and confidential STD testing and treatment for all of our patients.
If you are diagnosed with an STD, most of them can be treated. Many, however, cannot be cured. Currently, oral or injected antibiotics are prescribed for gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis. There is no cure for genital warts, but flare-ups can be shortened with antiviral medications. There is no cure for HIV but it can be treated with a combination of medications. STDs are serious infections that can cause lifelong or recurring symptoms and side effects. It is important to practice safe sex and get tested often.