High prevalence of diseases in cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, stroke, and heart problems are some of the most common health issues that affect many women of different ages. It is interesting to know, that all of these diseases can be prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Today, women often play dual roles and juggle their time between work and home. The majority of women tend to forget one very important thing, and that is, “To take care of oneself.”
The cervix undergoes changes in a woman’s life cycle and is most vulnerable during the following stages: puberty, during the first pregnancy, and a few weeks after childbirth. The cervical cells are exposed to carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) that could result in abnormal growth.
Prevention: true prevention involves getting rid of detrimental causes. The Pap test is a screening tool, but it does not prevent cervical diseases. Many women who have cervical cancer never had a Pap test.
Pap test: a procedure done during a pelvic exam. The doctor uses a speculum to broaden the opening of the vagina to examine the cervix. To collect the cells from the cervix, a plastic spatula and small brush are used. The collected cells are then placed into a solution and sent out to the lab for testing.
How often should you get tested?
- Women ages 21 to 29 – Every 2 years
- Women 30 years and older who have 3 consecutive normal tests – Every 3 years
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is among the most widespread sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Canada and all over the world. There are many types of HPV that have been identified, and some lead to cancer or skin lesions. There is no cure for HPV infections; however, many of the symptoms are treatable. Some infections continue with recurring symptoms. The practice of safe sex by using condoms and limiting sex partners will reduce your risk of getting HPV and other STIs.
Vaccinations for HPV
Two vaccines have been authorized by Health Canada for the prevention of infections from HPV:
- Gardasil™ – used and approved for females ages 9 to 26. It protects two high-risk types of HPV (16 & 18), which cause about 70% of cervical cancers and two low-risk types of HPV (6 & 11), which causes 30% of anogenital warts.
- Cervarix™ – used and approved for young women ages 10 to 25. It protects two high-risk types of HPV (16 & 18), which causes about 70% of cervical cancers.
Dosage (for both vaccines)
- First dose: at a date, you and your doctor or healthcare professional choose one.
- Second dose: 1 month after the first dose.
- Third dose: 6 months after the first dose.
Pregnant and lactating women should not be given these vaccines.
Ongoing studies aim to find out if vaccinated women need further immunization to have continued protection. Ask your pharmacist about vaccines for HPV. Currently, many pharmacists are certified to give vaccine injections in some provinces. Other factors that might affect the overall health of your cervix:
- Changes in your life cycle
- Immune system
- Smoking & second-hand smoke
Taking care of your breasts
Breasts come in all shapes and sizes. As a woman ages, changes to her body occur. The woman’s menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breastfeeding, menopause, and aging are some factors that affect how it looks and feels.
- Breast Self-Examination (BSE) – a screening method used to detect early breast cancer. Experts are still divided whether it is worthwhile for women to do breast self-exams. The Canadian Breast Cancer Network and the Canadian Cancer Society still suggest and promote women to continue looking at and feeling each breast for possible lumps, distortions, or swelling. The decision is all yours, but you must have your breasts examined by a doctor or trained nurse once a year to look for any changes or abnormalities.
- Lump or changes in the breast – A breast lump or pain can alarm some women. Although you should see with your doctor, this does not mean that there is something wrong. Most lumps in the breast are not cancerous, and breast pain can be attributed to hormonal changes in your body. Most breast lumps in women are fibrocystic caused by tissue sacs filled with liquid (cyst) and scarring of breast tissues.
If you notice the following changes, you should consult your doctor immediately:
- a lump
- abnormal increase in the size of one breast
- discharge from nipples
- any changes to the breast skin or nipple
A mammogram is a process that examines the human breast using low-energy X-rays. Its main goal is the early detection of breast cancer. Health Canada recommends screening mammograms for the following ages of women:
- Between ages 40 and 69 – Every 1 to 2 years
- At high risk of breast cancer, ages 40 to 49 – Every year
- Below age 40 – Not recommended
Taking care of your bones
Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones characterized by low bone mass and the weakening of the bone tissue. It leads to increased fragility of the bones and fracture (broken bones) mostly on the spine, hip, and wrist. Osteoporosis develops slowly. You may be losing bone mass density for many years and not experience any symptoms or signs of the disease; this is the reason why it is also known as “the silent thief.” Fractures caused by osteoporosis are more common than the combination of stroke, heart attack, and breast cancer. At least one in three women will be suffering from osteoporosis during their lifetime.
Diagnosis – the key to diagnosing osteoporosis is the assessment of your risk and testing your bone loss.
BMD (Bone Mineral Density) Test is a painless and safe way of accurately measuring your bone’s density. The technology used is called bone densitometry. Your BMD test results are compared to the bones of a normal average young adult. The most common bone density test used today is the dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Within a few minutes, a small X-ray detector scans your spine or hips or both.
Who should get a BMD testing?
- All women 65 years or older
- Postmenopausal women 50–64 with risk factors for fracture
- Younger women (below 50) with a disease or condition associated with low bone mass or bone loss
A score (T-score) is calculated to obtain the bone density, usually taken from the hip and spine. It is expressed in units called “standard deviations” (SDs). These SD units can tell how far a person differs from what is considered normal for a young adult.
Treatment – there are many drug treatments available to reduce fractures. Each individual responds differently to drug treatments. The cost can also be a factor. Provincial drug plans cover only certain drugs for some patients. Both you and your physician need to find out the available drug treatment options, taking into account the risk and benefits to be able to choose the right treatment for you.
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