Emily Buckley, editor in chief
Visiting the gynecologist for an annual health exam can be anxiety-inducing for many women. This may prevent some women from asking important questions about their health. With this in mind, we sat down with Ken Wade, PAC, at the Cache Valley Women’s Center at the Lodge to discuss questions women frequently ask, or don’t ask.
- Should I take a prenatal vitamin, even if I am not pregnant or planning to become pregnant? “Yes. There is good evidence that women of childbearing age should always be taking a prenatal vitamin. It is important to start prenatal vitamins a month before conception because folic acid helps prevent birth defects. Not all pregnancies are planned, so if you are of childbearing age, and are sexually active, you should be taking a prenatal vitamin that contains 400 micrograms of folic acid.”
- How often do I really need a pelvic exam? “Beginning at age 21, women should have a pap smear every three years if the results are normal. If there is any abnormality, you need to be checked more frequently, at least annually, or more often, depending on the abnormality.”
- If I am not due for my pap smear, should I still see my gynecologist annually? “Yes. There is more to an annual exam than a pelvic exam. It is a health checkup, too. We do a full physical including the ears, nose, throat, lungs, heart, breast, and abdomen. Don’t stay away just to avoid the pelvic exam, but, we do recommend complete exams at least every three years.”
- When should I get my first mammogram? “Age 40, unless you have close family member (mother or sister) who was diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50 — then you should have your first mammogram 10 years younger than the age that person was diagnosed.”
- Should I have genetic testing for cancer? “If you have a close family member (mother or sister) who was diagnosed early (before age 50) with breast or ovarian cancer, or who has tested positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, you should consider being tested. However, testing is not permitted until after age 18.” According to the American Cancer Society, a woman with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation has about a seven in 10 chance of getting breast cancer by age 80. Knowing your risk will help with early detection, which can be lifesaving.
- Can you prevent breast cancer? “There is no true way to prevent breast cancer, but there are things you can do that may reduce your risk. Limiting alcohol intake, not smoking, controlling your weight, and being physically active are a few things that have been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer. These are all things that can be part of a whole-life lifestyle, beginning with young girls.”
- When does osteoporosis become a concern? “Many of the things that raise your chances for osteoporosis can’t be changed, like age and genetics, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take preventative measures. Beginning at an early age, girls should exercise and maintain a healthy diet (including plenty of calcium or a calcium supplement). Women reach their maximum bone density by age 28, so an early, preventive lifestyle is important.”
- What do you wish every woman knew? “Every woman should be in tune and familiar with her body. Self-examination is important for early detection. My mother died from breast cancer at age 27, so I preach about this.
“Women’s health care is not one-size-fits-all, so if something (birth control, medication, etc.) isn’t working for you, there are likely other options. Pay attention to your body and don’t live in discomfort. Take those concerns to your medical provider and work as a team to find answers for you.”
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you have concerns, talk to your physician — that’s why they are there and, honestly, few questions will surprise them.