Early detection, early prevention. Ribbons of all colors decorate t-shirts and hats and foam soda can holders. These days it seems a woman can’t turn on a computer or walk down the street without seeing some kind of reminder about a specific illness awareness campaign. It is good to know that women are more empowered now and alert when it comes to getting the information and care needed to stay healthy, but sometimes the information can overload one’s senses. Women should be aware of health risks, but it’s also good to stay organized and on top of things.
Disease is something that doesn’t discriminate. Even breast cancer, one of the most common causes of cancer death in women, can be found in men. However, awareness bulletins are usually geared toward female patients, as are alerts for gender-specific illnesses. For those who may be confused by all the media messages sent, here is a brief rundown of common illnesses among women along with information on what to look for and when.
Breast Cancer – Women are encouraged early on to do monthly self-exams to feel for anomalies like hard lumps, and to check for changes in breast shape. Sometimes, a lump isn’t immediately detectable so it’s important to note any change and see a doctor if you have concerns. Depending on your family history, your doctor may recommend an annual mammogram starting in your late thirties.
Cervical Cancer – A Pap smear, when performed correctly is likely to detect any signs of possible cancer. Thanks to advances in care and treatment, instances of cervical cancer deaths are declining as the survival rate grows. Women concern about this illness should definitely continue their annual pelvic exams and look for the more obvious symptoms, which include unusual discharge, pain in the pelvic region, and irregular bleeding.
Uterine/Ovarian Cancer – Cancers of the reproductive system can be trickier to detect, as symptoms are often associated with a variety of non-threatening conditions. Post-menopausal women are at a higher risk level, yet the disease doesn’t discriminate. Pelvic exams may not detect any anomalies, but if you suspect problems associated with abdominal bloating, pressure and pain, and odd changes in menstrual habits it would be wise to consult your doctor.
Lupus – Lupus is a disease of the immune system, which results in an internal attack of organs and tissues. It is estimated that nearly ninety percent of patients are women ages 18 – 45, with more African-Americans and Hispanics affected, and symptoms and severity will differ from person to person. Because of the complexity of the illness, lupus may not be immediately diagnosed, but if you have a family history you will want to look out for signs like skin lesions and rashes, fatigue, and unexplained fever.
Heart Disease – Heart disease is the most common cause death among women. Cardiac health, naturally is important for women of all ages to maintain optimal health and look for signs that could portend problems – these include shortness of breath, fatigue and dizziness, sweating and nausea. If you find you have these problems, there is a possibility of arterial blood flow problems, and you will want to contact a doctor immediately.
Colon Cancer – Past the age of fifty, it is recommended for women to schedule an annual colonoscopy to check for anomalies in the colon and rectal area. If you experience abnormal rectal bleeding and bowel discomfort, it may be a good idea to consult with your gastroenterologist to see if a colon exam is necessary.
Be vigilant, and look for odd signs that don’t normally jibe with your good health. Knowing how your body works and intuitively detecting something wrong is one key toward disease prevention.
Kathryn Lively writes on Virginia women’s health.