health

The four cancer checks all women should be adding to their calendars.

Pink Hope
Thanks to our brand partner, Pink Hope

In an office full of women, we talk all day about the issues that affect us. Relationships, parenting, the result of the recent election, periods – they’re all regular topics spoken about over the watercooler.

But there is one thing we don’t tend to chat about until it’s far too late: cancer. Especially those that specifically affect women.

At current rates, it is expected that one in two Australian men and one in three Australian women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.

If we develop a system where we have regular breast, ovarian and bowel cancer screenings, which should happen on an annual or biannual basis depending on your age, then we can go a long way in preventing many cancer-related deaths.

Research shows that regular breast screenings prevent breast-cancer related deaths by 20 per cent, and regular bowel screenings prevent death by 50 per cent. This is hugely significant when we acknowledge that one in five people who died from breast cancer, and half of all people who died from bowel cancer, could have been with us longer.

To help everyone keep on top of it all, we’ve put together a checklist to empower you to know what cancer checks you should be doing and how often you need to do them.

"One in three Australian women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime." Image: iStock.

Breast cancer.

To figure how likely you are to develop breast and ovarian cancers, there is a handy online calculator that empowers women to understand their own risk profile and take action to reduce their own risk. It only takes a few minutes to complete and could go a long way in helping you take control of your preventative health.

Apart from being aware of your own breast cancer risk profile, it is recommended that all women undertake self-checks monthly to recognise irregular lumps and bumps in their breasts. If you are between the ages of 40 - 74, Breast Screen Australia provide free, biannual breast screening, which can decrease fatality rates by about 20 per cent.

For those who fall in a high-risk category, which means you have strong family history of breast cancer or experience breast cancer symptoms, you may need to adopt a more vigilant diagnostic testing approach, which could include tests like a 3D mammogram or an ultrasound. It's always best to see your doctor if you have any concerns.

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Ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to detect early, largely because its symptoms can be vague and misdiagnosed for other common illnesses. The symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  •         abdominal bloating
  •         difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  •         frequent or urgent urination
  •         back, abdominal or pelvic pain
  •         constipation
  •         menstrual irregularities
  •         fatigue
  •         indigestion
  •         pain during sexual intercourse.

The main risk factor for ovarian cancer is age, with over 80 per cent of women diagnosed being over 50 years old. Also, your family history of ovarian cancer plays a big role in your own likelihood of developing the disease.

While there are no preventative screenings available for ovarian cancer, being aware of your own risk profile means that you can inform your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms, which will enable them to refer you for a CA125 blood test to test for ovarian cancer cells.

"Inform your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms." Image: iStock. 

Bowel cancer.

Around 80 Australians die of bowel cancer every week, but if detected early, up to 90 per cent of cases can be successfully treated. After the age of 50, your likelihood of developing bowel cancer increases. You are also at risk of developing bowel cancer if you have a family history of the disease or have had other inflammatory diseases in the bowel.

Bowel cancer is detected through a stool test that should be done every two years, and can be done in the convenience of your own home and sent to a pathology lab. If you’re aged 50 to 74 and eligible, the Australian Government will send you a free bowel cancer screening kit.

Cervical cancer.

Every woman who has been sexually active and is between the ages of 18 and 70 should also have regular Pap tests. The current guidelines are that women should have a Pap test every two years unless their doctor recommends otherwise. A Pap test checks for abnormal cell changes that could lead to cervical cancer. This test is usually administered by a general practitioner or a nurse and involves taking a swab sample from the cervix during a pelvic exam.

From 1 May this year, however, things will change. The Australian Government has announced that Pap tests will be replaced by a new Cervical Screening Program that involves a HPV Test, which also involves a swab sample. The new guidelines state that women aged from 25-74 should have a HPV test every five years.

So make some calls, mark some days in your diary, and get checked.

What regular health checks do you do?

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