Diseases do not just happen, usually changes begin to occur gradually and latently in our body systems. Symptoms and signs of diseases manifest when the body defense systems are greatly outnumbered or have lost the battle of protecting you. This post discusses routine screening tests that can help women stay a step ahead of diseases.
Why Should I Screen?
Screening and diagnostic tests affords one the benefit of early detection, treatment, and prevention. Screening puts one a step ahead of diseases by assessing your risk for future medical problems. Knowledge of one’s health status will help them make informed choices about their health and life in general. It encourages one to make important lifestyle and dietary modifications, which also includes updating their vaccinations.
By definition, screening is the presumptive identification of unrecognized disease in an apparently healthy, asymptomatic individual/population by means of tests, examinations or other procedures that
can be applied rapidly and easily to the target population. This means that one can appear physically well but be internally unhealthy. You don’t have to wait for disease to manifest before you go for a medical checkup.
Why Screen Women?
One of the tools to prevent the high incidence of diseases and mortality rates amongst women in Africa is by embracing prevention.
Some preventive tools include:
- Health Education: Including first aid skills.
- Routine Tests
Also, women are highly influential, and in addition can encourage fellow women, the men in their lives and their children to also seek prevention.
Important Screening Tests for Women
Below is a list of important screening tests available to women across various age groups.
- Breast Screening:
Breast cancer is the leading cancer affecting women of African descent. It claims thousands of lives annually, especially given our weak health systems in Africa. However, early detection is key to survival. One tool for early detection is screening. I know “it is not your portion”, however it cannot be merely wished away. Screening, plus lifestyle modifications
should be taken seriously, especially if one has a family history of breast cancers or any female-related (gynaecological) cancers.
Types of Breast Screening.
a. Self Breast Examination
Recommendation: Monthly. Best done from 5 days after your period. At that time, the breasts are less lumpy and less tender, reducing the chances of a false positive examination. If you no longer have periods, it is advised to pick a date monthly that best works for you. This could be the first or last day of the month.
b. Breast Ultrasound
Recommendation: Annually (Yearly). For women below the age of 40.
Recommendation: Annually. For women aged 40 years and above.
- Cervical Cancer screening
Cervical cancer is cancer affecting the cervix (Neck of the womb). This is the most ironical of cancers, because while it is nearly 100% preventable, it is the second commonest cancer affecting African women. The major risk factor is a sexually transmitted infection called HPV- Human Papilloma Virus. It is noteworthy that HPV can also be transmitted via sexual contact, not necessarily penetration.
Three Pillars of Cervical Cancer Prevention:
- Vaccination: Against the Human papilloma Virus. Effective for boys and girls between
ages 11. Can be taken by adults up to age 45, however, not as effective as
adolescence. See CDC recommendation.
- Early treatment of precancerous stages
Cervical Cancer Screening Tests.
These tests are best recommended for sexually active individuals who have a cervix. A sexually inactive person may only get a pap smear based on a sound indication and the recommendation of her doctor. Note sexually active means that a person has had penetrative sex before, regardless of
regularity or circumstances surrounding the activity.
– VIA (Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid): Screens for abnormal cervical cells. Screening lasts about 3 minutes and the results are gotten on the spot. Done every 3 years following a negative result.
– Pap Smear: Swab collection of cervical tissue which is tested for any abnormality. Done every 3 years following a negative result.
– HPV Screening: Swab collection of cervical tissue, to screen for the virus itself. Done every 5 years, following a negative result.
Combined screening: A combination of Pap smear and HPV testing. Repeated every 3-5 years. The samples for both tests can be gotten in one collection session.
Your healthcare provider will let you know which is available and best for you.
3. Abdomino-Pelvic Scans: Best done annually or biennially (Every two years). This scan checks for any structural abnormalities in abdominal organs ( Stomach, Pancreas, Spleen, Intestines, Kidneys, Liver), and pelvic organs (Uterus, Bladder). This test will detect any structural abnormality in any part of the female reproductive organ, including the womb, fallopian tubes, ovaries). It can detect tumours, growths, cysts, etc.
- STI screening; HIV, VDRL (Syphilis Gonorrhea), Hepatitis B&C
- Dental screening
- Eye Screening
- Do not forget your vaccines– HPV vaccine, Hepatitis B Vaccine, Tetanus Toxoids.
- General tests include: Urine Analysis, Liver Function tests, Kidney Function test, Stool analysis
What do these tests help you discover?
- Full blood count: Detects anemia, Red Blood Cell anomalies, leukocytosis and signs of
- Electrolyte/Urea/Creatinine: Tests the kidney function, could reveal electrolytes derangement and kidney failure.
- Blood pressure screening: Detects hypertension (High blood pressure) and hypotension.
- Diabetes screening: Tests include Fasting and Random blood Glucose test, Oral Glucose Tolerance Test, Glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c). Help to make a diagnosis of diabetes, pre-diabetes, monitor treatment and complains with medications.
- Cholesterol screening: includes High- and Low-density Lipoprotein (HDL and LDL) commonly called good and bad cholesterol. And triglycerides. Aid in diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, Diabetes, and heart failure.
- Electrocardiography (ECG): Could show early signs of heart failure.
- Chest X-Ray
- Colorectal cancer screening: Include fecal occult blood (stool-based) test done every
year, stool DNA test every 3 years, Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, Double
contrast barium enema every 5 years, Colonoscopy every 10 years.
- High Vaginal swab and urine analysis: Sexually transmitted Infections.
- Liver function test: Liver disease
Additional tests for persons aged 40-49yrs
- Eye screening; could reveal Presbyopia, cataracts, Glaucoma.
- Osteoporosis screening test: bone density test (DEXA scan), bone measurement test. Blood tests and X-ray are also useful in detecting Rheumatoid Arthritis.
- Lung Cancer screening: Lung X-ray, sputum cytology.
Embedding a culture of routine screening alongside maintaining a healthy lifestyle will go a long way to ensure our wellbeing. The importance of good rest, exercise, healthy diet, and optimum hydration cannot be over emphasized.
Contact your health care provider today and find how you can begin your screening journey.
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