The following information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
Your annual well-woman exam can move pretty fast - with the OB/GYN in and out before you even know what happened. So how do you make sure you're getting the essential tests for your age and health history? Here, women from the Circle of Moms communities share a shortlist of health screenings that can save your life.
1. Pap Test
One of the most common annual or bi-annual tests performed at your OB/GYN visit is the pap test, sometimes also called the pap smear. You probably know that a pap can detect early signs of cervical cancer, but it does more than that. As member Ronda L. explains, an abnormal pap result can happen for many different reasons; including a variety of infections, or even pregnancy.
If you do have an abnormal result, your doctor's main concern is cervical cancer. She may do further testing or a procedure called colposcopy to look for abnormal or pre-cancerous cells in the cervix. Joanna G. emphasizes how important it is to follow through: "It's scary because it's something that can progress quickly, so it's something you need to keep getting checked up."
While an abnormal pap is to be taken seriously, it's not the end of the world, and doesn't necessarily mean you will ever get cervical cancer. In fact, as WebMD explains, "actual cervical cancer is rare in the U.S. because most women get pap tests and have abnormal cells treated before they turn into cancer."
Circle of Moms member Samantha W., who went through the procedure to remove abnormal cells, stresses how important it is to stay positive: "they took [a] biopsy of my cervix twice, and then I had the abnormal cells burned off. When that test came back they said it was all good. So do not think the worst because it could be taken care of easily."
2. Breast Exam
As part of your annual visit, regardless of your age, your OB/GYN should perform a breast exam. Women of all ages are at risk for breast cancer, and as Sandy G.'s story shows, both self exams and annual exams by your doctor are important methods of early detection. Sandy found a lump in her own breast when her daughter was only six and she was in her 40s. She followed up with her doctor and was diagnosed with breast cancer. NTen years later and feeling lucky to be alive, she says, "Thank the Lord for self breast exams."
Moms in the Circle of Moms communities who know how important self breast exams are have been discussing how to best teach their teenage daughters. Louise G. says it's not something you should put off: "Don't be shy, ask them point blank if they want to know how to do this and if they would mind mum showing them." Several other moms said their daughter's doctor, even a pediatrician, was happy to show her how to perform a self breast exam.
At some point in our lives as women, an annual mammogram becomes obligatory. Unfortunately, the experts still don't agree on exactly when this should begin. According to WebMD, women who are not identified as high risk candidates for breast cancer should start mammograms around age 40 or 50, but ultimately: "When you need a mammogram is a personal decision between you and your doctor." Women who are at a high risk based on family or personal health history should start having annual screening mammograms at a younger age, and possibly even ultrasound or MRI screenings. But no matter how old you are, check in with your doctor to see if she thinks you need to have a mammogram.
Lynn, a mom of four, credits a mammogram with saving her life. The test detected her breast cancer even when there was no discernible lump. It was at a very early stage, which is when breast cancer is easiest to treat.
If you're apprehensive about the procedure or the pain involved, take some comfort from the words of a member named Olga. She had several mammograms even before becoming a mom because of her risk factors. Her impressions from these experiences will set minds at ease: "My mammograms were not too painful. I would describe them as uncomfortable. This procedure is not a big deal."
The preceding information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.