By Laura Bourdeanu, NP, PhD
International Womena��s Day has come a long way since its origin back in March 19th, 1911 when the first International Womena��s Day was celebrated. It was a huge success with rallies and meetings in places like Germany, Switzerland and Austria. March 19th was chosen back then because it was that day in 1948 when the Prussian King vowed to introduce votes for women, but this hadna��t followed through, prompting the date to be moved to March 8th in 1913. Keeping with the same tradition of empowering women, leta��s focus our efforts on the fight cancer this year while pushing for equal rights for men and women.
Women, especially elder women, should be encouraged by their family physicians, to know about the health risks posed by the different cancers that they are potentially at risk of, if they do not get screening tests done as soon as they can. Another way is to give mothers gifts with the same fervor as every year, except this time encourage them to find out about the different cancer screening tests that they should most likely undergo. Support them in the screening process physically and emotionally (even financially if you can do so).
American Cancer Society gives certain recommendations for women at risk of different cancers:
Early screening is preferred as it will help catch cancer in the early stages. Women should talk about a screening for breast cancer at 40. Breast exams are no longer part of breast cancer screening, but mammograms are. If there is an average risk of cancer, women should start with yearly mammograms when they are 45 years, and should do so every alternate year when they reach 55 and should continue till they are healthy. Early and more frequent screening is recommended for women who have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Your doctor will decide if you are high risk based on your family history, and other risk factor such as smoking, drinking, high-fat diet, and sedentary lifestyle.
21 years is the ideal age to begin screening, and Pap smears should happen every 3 years till 29 years of age. If at any time the test results give unusual results, HPV tests should be carried out. Beyond that, between 30-65 years, the frequency should be brought down to every 5 years. After 65, regularly screened women with normal results should discontinue screening. However, those who have diagnoses of cancer/pre-cancer should proceed with the help of their medical professional on how to approach further screening. Women with HIV infections are at high cervical cancer risk and should consult their doctor for the recommended screening plan for them.
Average risk women should start their screening processes at 50 years, after consulting with their doctor. If they are at a higher risk of colon cancer, they should be able to start with the screening process earlier. Cancer polyps discovered earlier during the different screening processes and can be removed easily during their initial stages when the success probability is higher.
Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer in women with cancer, and its major cause is smoking. If you are or were a heavy smoker (within the past 15 years) and are between 55 and 74 years of age then you should be screened for lung cancer yearly with a low-dose CT scan. Although non-smokers can get lung cancer this test is not recommended, as the risks of screening usually outweigh the benefits. Quitting smoking can dramatically lower your chances of getting lung cancer and it one of the best health decisions you can make.
I hope you get cancer screening not just this International Womena��s Day but whenever you have the chance! Remember to treat yourself after each screening test.