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Ten health tests every woman should have

Staying on top of your health by eating healthily and exercising regularly is all well and good. However, regular health testing will also ensure that you’ll see to a healthy and happy old age, writes Charmaine Yabsley.

Keeping on top of your health can be time-consuming. Luckily, doctor surgeries are now equipped to ensure that when it’s time for your schedule health check your doctor will be on it. “In some cases – if there are genetic reasons, pre-existing health issues, or even, in some instances, gender reasons – you may to keep in mind that your tests should be done more regularly,” says Dr Ronald McCoy, spokesperson for the Royal Australian Academy of General Practitioners. “As always, if you have any concerns, at any time about your health, speak to your GP straight away.”

Test: Pap test

How often: Every two years for all women.
What the GP says: “You should have a pap smear every two years, if it’s normal risk or as your doctor recommends,” says Dr McCoy. “You need to have pap smear once you’ve become sexually active. However, after the age of 70, as long as you have had two consecutive normal smears, you can usually stop having tests.” It’s vitally important that women over the age of 50 continue to have pap smears. “We don’t often talk about sexual risk for older women,” says Dr McCoy. “If a partner has remarried, then they may end up with a new partner. They need to make sure that their pap smears are kept up and that they’re practicing safe sex. We should understand that if a relationship ends, we must realise that a person’s sex life doesn’t end. New relationships do begin.”

Test: Mammogram

How often: Every two years; more regularly if you’re considered high risk.
What the GP says: “Women between the ages of 50 and 69 years should have a mammogram every two years,” says Dr McCoy. “When we talk about screening, we’re talking about women who have no symptoms or signs of disease. The difference is if you get a symptom, then you visit your doctor immediately; you don’t wait for a screening.”
If you’re a man: “Male breast cancers count for about one per cent of cancers,” he says. “It’s treated the same way as breast cancer in women and there’s very good outcomes from treatment. When there is a change in your breast area, it’s important, as it is for women, to see your GP immediately to discuss your concerns.”

Test: Type 2 diabetes

How often: Every three years
What the GP says: “Overweight children who have other risk factors for diabetes, starting at age 10 will have tests repeated every 2 years. Overweight adults (BMI greater than 25) who have other risk factors and adults over age 45 are tested every 3 years. For those over the age of 45, your blood pressure will also be tested every two years, more regularly if you’re considered high risk,” says Dr McCoy.

Test: Depression

How often: Opportunistic screening
What the GP says: “When you visit your GP, they will take the opportunity to ask you lifestyle questions to check your emotional and mental wellbeing,” says Dr McCoy. “This can help determine if there are any factors which have changed and may be affecting your mental happiness.”

Test: Dental check-ups

How often: At least every 12 months.
What the dentist says: According to the Australian Dental Association, if you’re over 50 and do not wear dentures, then your visits to the dentist should be as recommended. “It is most important to visit your dentist at recommended intervals which suit your dental condition and age, to screen for dental disease and more serious diseases of the mouth,” says a spokesperson from the Australian Dental Association. “Nowadays, dental decay is often a problem for the mature adult. To prevent decay of the necks of the teeth near your gums, pay strict attention to tooth brushing (at least twice a day, especially after meals) and use dental floss between the teeth to remove plaque which causes gum disease.”

Test: Hyperlipidaemia screening

How often: Checking cholesterol and blood lipids in women without other cardiovascular risk factors is recommended every five years from the age of 45.
What the GP says: “Understand that the recommendation for checking your cholesterol and blood lipids every five years are for people with no other risk factors,” he says. “In fact, many people may require their cholesterol checked more frequently because other risk factors or diseases are present. As a general rule, after any screening test, ask your GP ‘when will I need another test?’ Your GP will also tailor the information to your exact situation.”

Test: Testing for high blood pressure

How often: Every two years or less
What the GP says: “Blood pressure tends to be routinely checked on most GP visits so many people will have it checked one or twice a year,” says Dr McCoy. “However, make sure you get it checked at least every two years from the age of 18. Many people with other risk factors will need to have it checked even more regularly. BP checks also give the GPs an opportunity to feel your pulse and listen to your heartbeat. This can help the early detection and treatment of any heart irregularities, which are more common in older people.”

Test: Obesity

How often: Every two years
What the doctor says: “Being overweight is a significant risk factor in many health conditions including cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” says Dr McCoy. Ask your doctor to check your body mass index (BMI) and waist measurement every two years.

Test: Osteoporosis

How often: every one to two years
What the GP says: “All women should be tested for osteoporosis, especially after the age of 45, or menopause,” says Dr McCoy. “Bone mineral densitometry tests will be performed on women over 65.”

Test: Colorectal cancer

How often: every five years
What the GP says: According to the Jean Hailes Health Foundation, the faecal occult blood test (FOBT) uses chemicals to check a stool sample for blood. If you’re over 50 you should have this test once every two years.
Women at high risk of bowel cancer may need a colonoscopy every five years. During this test, you are given light sedation and the doctor inserts a slender instrument called a colonoscope through the anus to visually check your rectum and large bowel for any abnormalities.