Earlier this week, generations of Australian women mourned the loss of iconic girls’ mag Dolly after its parent company, Bauer Media, announced that the newsstand staple was coming to an end after 46 years.
One of the most iconic aspects of the magazine was its Dolly Doctor section – where girls from around the country could ask questions to a non-judgmental medical professional. Questions they’d never dare to ask their parents or sex-ed teachers, but deserved to know about nonetheless.
For women who grew up in a time before Google and WebMD, Dolly Doctor was the educator. She was the big sister, cool aunt, and understanding school counsellor. The person there to reassure us that no, a tampon wouldn’t leave us pregnant. (Neither will masturbating or french kissing, for that matter.)
Now, as we farewell Dolly, we ask the Dolly Doctor – Melissa Kang – to answer our angsty medical questions one last time.
My period symptoms have gotten a lot worse as I've grown older. Is this something to be concerned about?
I think you’re worrying about whether these symptoms mean something is ‘wrong’ or even sinister that’s going on in your body? In general, women in the third and fourth decade of life tend to have little variation in their cycles, with the obvious exception of the influence of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and hormone contraceptive use. These make your periods absent or lighter. So, if your periods have become much heavier, painful, frequent or irregular it’s definitely worth getting them checked out. Conditions such as endometriosis and fibroids are not sinister but can create lots of discomfort. Pelvic or sexually transmitted infections are usually less frequent as we get older but can appear as unexpected bleeding or pelvic pain. The serious conditions such as cancers tend to happen in older middle-aged women, usually around or beyond menopause. You might also be referring to pre-menstrual symptoms which can sometimes get worse with age, but there are ways to manage these as well. It’s worth getting a check up from your GP.
I sleep with my smartphone next to me, is this a breast cancer risk?
The short answer is we don’t know, but it seems unlikely. Most of the research about mobile phones and cancer has studied cancers in the brain or head and found no increased risk. This is thought to be due to the type of radiation used in mobile phones which is completely different from what’s known as ‘ionising radiation’ associated with cancers. In mobile phones, the radiation is not able to ‘ionise’ atoms. This is a technical but critical issue, which essentially means mobile phone radiation cannot disrupt the DNA in our cells that might lead to a mutation or cancerous change. What it can do if held close to the body is cause a slight increase in temperature of the cells in that area, but this is not known to be associated with cancer.
I get breakouts as an adult. What's most likely causing them and how can I make it stop?
As we all know, acne is usually the plague of teenage-dom and it does affect most teenagers to some extent. But the skin condition itself can persist for years after those puberty years and in some people, it appears for the first time in adulthood. In some women, sensitivity to hormones related to the menstrual cycle might play a part, and adult acne can be genetic. There’s unclear medical evidence as to whether stress plays a part, but some medications will affect the skin. Adult acne can be treated the same way as teenage acne with appropriate creams and gels or with prescription meds. Looking after the whole body – balanced diet, exercise – and skin (careful of clogging those pores too much with makeup) probably helps. But sometimes it’s worth being absolutely sure this is acne because it’s possible it’s a different skin condition and needs a different approach. So asking your GP for an assessment could be helpful.
I have three Tinder dates next week and a massive cold sore. HELP - I need a quick fix.
Cold sores are caused by one of the herpes viruses and they are extremely common. One of the concerns is about how they look, and the other is about transmitting the virus to another person through kissing, or oral sex. It’s worth pointing out that if the person you might be kissing also gets cold sores, you cannot infect them – they already have the virus and it won’t make them break out in a cold sore. If they haven’t had the virus or they don’t know, then it’s best to avoid skin to skin contact while you’ve got an open cold sore. The good news is that even those over the counter cold sore creams DO work – they shorten the duration of your cold sore. The antiviral cold sore tablets also work. The main issue though is that these treatments must be taken straight away to have that effect.
Most cold sores last 5-10 days without any treatment, so hopefully by next week it will be gone! For future reference, sunscreen can prevent cold sores since sunlight can be a trigger for them.
How do I raise the topic of STI checks with my new sexual partner?
I reckon this is one of those conversations that’s easiest if it cuts to the chase. Without knowing the gender of your new partner or whether contraception is an issue, I’ll just suggest starting with something like “OK I’d like to have the whole safe sex talk now that we’ve been / we’re about to start dating/ having sex/ seeing each other for [insert appropriate time frame]”. In some new sexual relationships the condom conversation happens straight away, and the STI one later. Or the contraception conversation, or both. I’m not sure where your situation fits but the expression ‘safe sex’ might cover all those possibilities. If it helps, get yourself informed about what an STI check involves for each of you. If you are both heterosexual, it’s possible that the only STI test recommended is a chlamydia test, which is very straightforward (peeing in a jar). When to have an STI check up also depends on recent history – chlamydia testing is recommended about once a year for heterosexual people or when with a new partner. There are still myths about what a test involves (you don’t even have to undress or be examined, let alone have swabs stuck in uncomfortable places) and some people still worry about confidentiality. And enjoy what will hopefully follow once that’s out of the way!
I'm trying to get pregnant, but we've had no luck for a year. Does stress affect fertility? How?
That’s a really important question to which there is not a clear answer. Stress can affect the menstrual cycle – it can make periods more, or less, frequent or ‘muck them up’ for a while. Some studies have also found that women who are more stressed (based on levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol, as well as questionnaires about stress) do take longer to conceive. The overall significance of this is not completely clear. The known risk factors for reduced fertility (taking longer than a year to conceive) include smoking, alcohol, being older than 35, being underweight or overweight and various menstrual cycle or other medical conditions. The fertility specialists recommend waiting until you have been trying for at least a year before you seek fertility advice unless you’re over 35 and have been trying for at least six months.
From everyone here at Mamamia, and women around Australia, thanks, Dolly Doctor.
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