The Internet is both a blessing and a curse, especially when the information you’re researching concerns women’s health. First, there is a ton of information available which can be confusing. You should understand that new studies are completed daily with data results that may be insignificant, confusing or may not apply to you. But several key health points seem to be misconstrued on a consistent basis and we can clear them up quickly.
A perimenopausal woman in her 40s can’t get pregnant.
While the chances of conceiving are declining in our 40s, pregnancy is still a possibility for many women. Some experts believe up to 50 percent of all pregnancies that occur among women 40+ are unplanned, making this demographic second only to teens in unplanned pregnancy! Talk to your health care provider about ways to protect against unplanned pregnancy. Low dose hormonal methods are safe and effective and newer permanent methods can be performed in the office without surgery.
All women need a pap test every year.
The annual ritual of getting a pap smear is not true for everyone anymore. The American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP) has compiled enough evidence to safely extend the intervals between pap smears. Sometimes more isn’t necessarily better and new knowledge about how cervical cancer develops and its link with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) has led to recent changes in screening guidelines:
• Women don’t need their first pap test until the age of 21
• Women ages 21 – 29 should be screened every 3 years.
• At age 30, women should have a pap smear along with the test for HPV. If both tests are negative then another pap smear is not recommended for 5 years. If the pap test is negative, but HPV is present, annual pap tests are still advised.
• For women with total hysterectomies for reasons unrelated to cancer and for those age 65+ with a history of regular screenings it may be possible to discontinue pap tests altogether.
Again, these are just guidelines. Speak with your healthcare provider to determine what is right for you — and remember — you are not exempt from visiting with your provider for general wellness exams and screenings for other types of cancer.
The best disease prevention is medication.
There’s no question medication has a role in preventing and treating disease. For example, vaccines to prevent some types of HPV that can lead to cancer are recommended for girls and boys under the age of 26. However, for other types of cancer and illness there are everyday diet and lifestyle changes we can make that influence our risk for several different types of cancer, including colon, uterine and breast, as well as our risk for heart disease and diabetes. Regular exercise, a healthy diet and not smoking are a great place to start. These types of lifestyle choices may require support and dedication, but the benefits make it well worth the effort.
There are dozens of other women’s health issues for which multiple opinions or confusing information exist. Among the best things you can do is to be a thorough, proactive advocate for yourself and to partner with your health care provider to make sure you’re addressing concerns specific to your own good health.