In recognition of Women’s Health Month during the month of May, we’re spotlighting important women’s health insights from physicians across different specialties. Lisbeth Chang, MD, an OB-GYN with Dignity Health Medical Group — Northridge, shares important insight on preventative screenings and OB-GYN care.
Why are routine OB-GYN visits important?
Dr. Lisbeth Chang: The American College of OBGYN recommends that women see their gynecologist at least once a year. This routine visit is a good time for you and your doctor to discuss common concerns including pain during sex, pelvic pain, or abnormal bleeding. Your annual appointment is also a good time to the time to make sure you are up-to-date on your vaccines, and screen for STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and cancer. You can talk to your doctor about whether or not you need a breast or pelvic exam.
Why and how often do women need different preventative screenings?
Dr. Lisbeth Chang: Cervical cancer and breast cancer affect hundreds of thousands of American women each year. Preventative screenings can save lives, so it’s important to stay up-to-date on your screenings and appointments with your doctor.
There are two types of tests that are important in cervical cancer screening:
- A Papanicolaou test (or Pap test/smear) looks for precancer or cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if not treated in a timely manner
- An HPV test detects the virus that causes these cell changes
Recommended Cervical Cancer Screening Ages (from the American College of OB-GYN)
- 21 – 29 years old — Should have a Pap test every three years. HPV testing can also be considered for women in this age range, but Pap tests are usually preferred
- 30 – 65 years old — Should have either both a Pap test and HPV test every five years, or a Pap test alone every three years or have an HPV test alone every five years
- 65 years and up — Cervical cancer screenings are no longer necessary in this age group for those who have never had abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer, and have had two to three negative screening tests in a row, depending on the type of test
While these guidelines are a helpful reference to knowing when to schedule a screening, there are exceptions to these rules. Those who have a history of cervical cancer, are HIV positive, have a weakened immune system, were exposed before birth to diethylstilbestrol (DES) or have had a hysterectomy, may need more or less screenings depending on your personal health needs. Talk to your physician to determine the best screening plan to fit your individual needs.
Recommended Breast Cancer Screening Ages (from the American College of OB-GYN)
For women who do not have a personal or family history of breast cancer and who do not have symptoms, mammogram screenings should start at age 35 and continue until at least age 75. The recommended breast cancer screening timeline is as follows:
- 35 – 39 years old — Should have a clinical breast exam every one to three years
- 40 years and up — Should have a clinical breast exam every year
- No later than 50 years — Annual mammograms should begin
What are some reasons women might delay care?
Dr. Lisbeth Chang: Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons women may delay their care.
A common reason is because they are feeling well. It is important to realize that check-ups and screenings can identify potential issues and the earlier issues are identified, the easier they are to treat. Often, when cervical cancer and breast cancer are detected, it is without any noticeable symptoms.
Occasionally, those who may become pregnant and who are pregnant delay their care. Prenatal care is incredibly important to help keep mom and baby safe and healthy throughout pregnancy. Checking in with one’s doctor regularly ensures that potential issues are addressed early.
Sometimes care is delayed due to insurance or financial concerns. Many people do not realize that insurance will often cover preventative care and pregnancy visits. If you have questions about your insurance coverage, your insurance provider or doctor’s office can help answer questions you may have about your coverage.
Staying on top of OB-GYN visits and screenings can save your life. Contact your primary care physician or OB-GYN to discuss and schedule annual screenings, or consult our “Find a Doctor” tool to find a Dignity Health Medical Group doctor near you.
Continue to check the Dignity Health Medical Groups’ blog for more Women’s Health Month insights throughout the month of May.