No matter what life throws at you, mama, your health is a priority. But we know it’s not that easy given moms tend to juggle — a lot. So if you find yourself drawing a blank when your doctor asks you when you last had your Pap smear or mammogram, it may be time to reevaluate your wellness.
PAP SMEARS VS. MAMMOGRAMS
A Pap smear is a screening tool for cervical cancer looking for abnormal cervical cells and the presence of the human papilloma virus (HPV) which can cause cell changes, says Justina Staroska, CNM at the Center for Women’s Health and Wellness.
“Women should have their first Pap test at age 21,” Staroska says. “If that test is normal, you can wait up to three years for your next Pap test. Women are still encouraged to have an annual well woman exam to update their health information, medications, risk factor and have pelvic and breast exams. At age 30 to 65, women can have a Pap test only, an HPV test only, or a combination of Pap test and HPV. They should discuss with their practitioner which option is right for them.”
A mammogram is a screening tool for breast cancer. At your mammogram screening, you will get x-rays of the breast that look for lumps and abnormalities before they can even be felt, says Staroska. This leads to earlier diagnosis and treatment. As for the frequency of mammogram screenings, recommendations vary. Several societies recommend varying screening schedules therefore most practitioners have taken an individualized approach, says Michelle Federer, DO, at Mercy Health — Obstetrics and Gynecology, East. She says that The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends women begin their mammograms at age 40 if there is no family history or risk factors for breast cancer. If there is a family history, a baseline mammogram is recommended at 35. Women between the ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every one to two years; for 55 and older it’s every two years or continue with yearly screenings.
Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer, says Staroska.
OTHER VITAL SCREENINGS
So you are up to speed with your Paps and mammogram, great! But not so fast — there are some other important health screenings you should know about.
“It is important that women remember that gynecologic cancers are not the only issues that women can have,” says Federer. “Testing for colon cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, thyroid, etc., is important as well.”
Some non-gynecologic issues include blood pressure (at least once every two years); cholesterol (recommended starting age is 45 for women with no known risk factors for coronary heart disease, and age 20 for women with known risk factors); diabetes (if your blood pressure is 130/80 mm Hg or higher); and colon cancer screenings (between ages 45 – 75); according to Staroska.
“Many health screenings can detect disease early when it is treatable and can prevent serious health problems,” she says. “So many women feel like taking time for their own health is being selfish. It is not selfish! It’s quite the opposite.” Moms wear many hats: getting caught up in their careers, caring for their family and juggling the millions of other mom duties, so their health can easily slip through the cracks. Remember, taking care of yourself means taking care of your family, too.
Healthy Tips For Moms
• 30 minutes of Exercise Most Days of the Week: Walking, increasing active moments, parking further away, playing at the park, etc.
• Eat a Healthy, Well-balanced Diet: Avoid processed and sugary foods.
• Rest Up: Aim for at least seven hours of sleep each night.
• Know your numbers: If you smoke, quit. Smoking increases your risk for many cancers and other diseases.
• Take Time for Your Mental Health: Relieve stress with five minutes of meditation, deep breathing or some quiet time.
• Schedule Preventative Appointments: Make annual appointments at a time that is easy to remember like your birthday or anniversary.
Source: Justina Staroska, CNM