Some smarty-pants once said ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ and while he or she probably wasn’t referring specifically to health check-ups for women, the expression is particularly relevant to this important subject.
Sure, they can be a little awkward, sometimes slightly embarrassing and often easily pushed to the back of our minds when spare time is a precious commodity.
But these seven health checks take next to no time out of your day and will help ensure you have many more days to come.
1. Keeping an eye on our skin.
Us Aussies have the highest incidence of melanoma in the world with two out of three people diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70. The best way to detect skin cancer early is to become familiar with your skin, and constantly keeping an eye on it for abnormalities including any changes in the shape, colour or size of a spot.
For a DIY examination find a room with good light and a full length mirror, undress completely and examine every inch of your skin, body part by body part. Keep an eye out for your friends and family too, checking difficult to see areas like their back. See a doctor straight away if you notice anything unusual.
Keep an eye out for abnormalities including any changes in the shape, colour or size of a spot. Image: iStock.
2. Pap tests.
Are you between 18 and 70 years old? Have you been sexually active? If that’s a yes and yes then the National Cervical Screening Program currently recommends you have a pap test every two years, even if you have had the HPV vaccine. This method of cervical screening is performed by a doctor, nurse cervical screening provider or gynaecologist, and it checks for particular changes to the cells of a woman's cervix.
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers with regular pap tests saving the lives of more than 1200 women each year. Don’t put off something so simple and remind your mates too, because one of those 1200 women could easily be you or someone you’re close to.
3. Breast awareness.
It’s recommended that women aged 50 to 74 participate in breast cancer screening and have a mammogram every two years. However, breast cancer can also occur in younger women as well, so all women should be ‘breast aware’. There is no right or wrong way to check your breasts – the important thing is to go to your doctor straight away if you notice anything unusual.
All women should know the normal look and feel of their breasts. Signs and symptoms to be aware of include new lumps or thickening in the breast or under the arm, nipple sores, nipple discharge or turning in, dimpling on the skin of your breast or a rash/red swollen breasts.
"Breast cancer can also occur in younger women as well, so all women should be ‘breast aware’." Image: iStock.
4. Bowel cancer tests.
Once you hit the big 5-0 you should be completing a bowel cancer screening test every two years. This can be done easily at home by yourself and will involve a stool sample to check your business for blood. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program currently provides the test free for people aged 50, 55, 60, 64, 65, 70, 72 and 74. More aged groups will be added in coming years and by 2020, the test will be available free (once every two years) to all Australians aged 50 to 74.
You can find out more about bowel cancer by calling Cancer Council 13 11 20. But even if you’re not in that age range, keep an eye on the toilet bowl for any irregularities or blood, and chat to your doctor as soon as possible if you’re concerned.
5. STI tests.
Whether you’ve had sex with one person or thousands, it’s super important to get tested for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI). Many people who have an STI don’t have any obvious symptoms and the consequences of going without treatment can be devastating, particularly for women.
Chlamydia, for example, if left unchecked can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease causing chronic pelvic pain and even infertility. So even if you are 100 per cent sure you’re in the clear, get tested anyway. It generally consists of a urine and blood test and is performed by your GP or a nurse with no embarrassment necessary.
Many people who have an STI don’t have any obvious symptoms. Image: iStock.
6. Dental check-ups.
When was the last time you went to the dentist? If you’re scrambling to recall, it was probably too long ago. Even if your chompers are sparkling, it’s recommended you have a dental check-up every six months to help detect any problems early on, as preventative care will save you a lot of money in the long run.
7. Eye exams.
Your eyesight tends to deteriorate with each extra candle on the birthday cake so it’s important to get your eyes checked at least every couple of years.
Eye tests performed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist will indicate whether you need to start wearing glasses or change your prescription, as well as detecting other medical conditions. If you’ve noticed any changes to your vision, you have a family history of glaucoma or you’re aged over 40, book in an appointment sooner.
How do you prioritise your health?
By getting your favourite ladies together during October and hosting a Girls’ Night In, not only will you be raising money to help beat women's cancers, but you can also use it as an opportunity to share tips on how you can help each other take steps to detect and try to prevent cancer.
In Australia, over 50 women a day are diagnosed with a breast or gynaecological cancer. By hosting a Girls’ Night In, you will be joining thousands of women all over Australia, getting together to have a great time, and raising essential funds for cancer research, prevention programs and support services. Register now to receive your free host kit by visiting girlsnightin.com.au or by calling 1300 65 65 85.