Aetna Monthly Health Watch: Five Health Screenings Women Should Never Ignore

Oct 22 2010
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By Joanne Armstrong, M.D., Senior Medical Director, Aetna Health Care Management

HARTFORD, Conn.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a reminder to all women to stay vigilant in maintaining their health. This is a great time of year to make sure you are up-to-date on all of your wellness visits and checkups. Plus, Health Care Reform legislation now requires that the majority of plans renewed on or after September 23, 2010 fully cover preventive health services. So which wellness visits and health screenings should you never miss? Read on to learn more.

1) Mammograms – According to the American Cancer Society, about every three minutes a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer. Your best defense is to lead a healthy lifestyle and to find breast cancer in its earliest stages. Mammograms, which are X-rays of the breast tissue, are the most common tool used by doctors to detect breast cancer in women. The American Cancer Society recommends that healthy women age 40 and older receive a mammogram each year. Women in their 20’s and 30’s who are not considered high risk are recommended to have a clinical breast exam by a health care professional at least every three years.1

2) Pelvic Exam and Pap Test – Be sure to schedule regular gynecological checkups every year. During the pelvic exam, your doctor may take a sample of cells from inside the cervix, called a Pap smear, for lab analysis. The Pap smear is the most common method to find the abnormal cells that can lead to cervical cancer. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), cervical cancer screening should begin for most women at age 21 regardless of sexual activity. If test results are normal (negative), repeat testing should occur every two years for women ages 20 through 29 years of age. For women greater than 30 years of age, if three consecutive pap test results are normal, then screening can be spaced out to every three years. As an alternative for women over the age of 30, cervical cancer screening can also include testing for a virus called Human Papillomavirus (HPV). 2 HPV testing is not recommended for cervical cancer screening in women less than 30 years of age. At your checkup, you may also want to consider asking your doctor if she would recommend testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Many of these infections are highly treatable or even curable, but can compromise your health if they are left untreated.

3) Cholesterol Screening – High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease or a heart attack. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States and each year over one million people in the United States have heart attacks.3 There are two kinds of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad cholesterol”; and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good cholesterol.” Too much LDL cholesterol can build up and cause hardened or blocked arteries, potentially leading to heart attack or stroke. Higher levels of HDL cholesterol have been linked with reduced risk of heart attacks. In general, adults older than 20 should try to keep their total cholesterol level below 200 milligrams per deciliter. That includes keeping LDL cholesterol below 100 and HDL cholesterol at 60 milligrams or more.

Although in some cases high cholesterol can run in families, the majority of the risk factors for developing high cholesterol and heart disease are due to lifestyle factors such as smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise. To lower your cholesterol, your doctor may recommend that you change your lifestyle or may also prescribe drugs.

4) Blood Pressure Screening – Make sure to get your blood pressure checked at least once every two years. Most doctors do this automatically at routine checkups. High blood pressure means you can be at an increased risk for heart attack, heart failure or stroke. It also can be an indication of kidney or liver problems, or other diseases such as diabetes.4 Your blood pressure is considered high if you have a reading of 140/90 or higher.5

5) Bone Density Test – All women over the age of 65 are encouraged to be screened regularly for osteoporosis with a bone density test. Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by loss of the bone tissue. A decrease in bone density can make it easier for bones to fracture. Contrary to popular belief, osteoporosis is not just an inevitable part of aging — it can be prevented. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, physical exercise using weights and an overall healthy lifestyle with no smoking and limited alcohol consumption can help prevent the onset of osteoporosis.6 If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, your doctor may prescribe certain medications to help you retain bone density.

Read the complete October 2010 edition of the Monthly Health Watch here.

1 American Cancer Society. Recommendations for early breast cancer detection.

2 The Pap Test brochure. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. December 2009.

3 National Cholesterol Education Program. High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need To Know.

4 Mayo Clinic. High Blood Pressure Dangers; Hypertension’s Effects on the Body.

5 Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Women: Stay Healthy at Any Age – Checklist for Your Next Checkup.

6 National Osteoporosis Foundation. Prevention brochure.



Kate Prout, 215-345-1245

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