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Taking care of your family is important, but keeping up with your own health is critical. An annual well-woman exam is a good first step.
Well-woman checks are different from any other visit for sickness or injury. Along with a complete physical exam, you can talk about your health history and habits with your doctor. Together, you can set health goals for the year. Your visit may include:
Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. What can you do to prevent heart disease? Lifestyle choices play a big role. To lower your risk, don’t smoke, and pay attention to your diet, exercise and stress.
Smart food choices can help you control your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol! To make your diet more heart-healthy:
Staying active helps keep your heart healthy. How much exercise do you need? Most adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, plus two or more days of muscle-strengthening each week.
Chronic stress can raise your blood pressure and take a toll on your heart. During difficult times, some people turn to smoking, drinking or overeating to cope with stress. Unfortunately, they all lead to heart problems.
Instead, take deep-breathing breaks. Make time to relax and unwind. Get a good night’s sleep. Go for a walk, take a yoga class, move your body. All reduce stress and help improve heart health.
Nearly 13 percent of women in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point during their lifetime. Women who have a personal history of breast disease or a strong family history can face a higher risk.
Still, risk factors don't tell the whole story. According to the American Cancer Society, “Having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get the disease. Most women who have one or more breast cancer risk factors never develop the disease, while many women with breast cancer have no apparent risk factors (other than being a woman and growing older).”
About 85 percent of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of the disease. That’s why it’s so important for all women to follow the recommended screening guidelines. Mammograms can help find breast cancer early, when treatments are more likely to be successful. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors for breast cancer and a screening plan that is best for you.
Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. Often called the silent killer, more than 70 percent of women aren’t diagnosed until the cancer has spread.
In its early-stage, it rarely causes any symptoms. Even advanced-stage ovarian cancer may cause few symptoms. Symptoms tend to be non-specific. Bloating, abdominal pain and gut issues are often mistaken for constipation or irritable bowel.
There is good news, though. When caught early, ovarian cancer can be successfully treated. Still, pelvic exams, ultrasound and blood screening tests can be unreliable. That’s why it’s important to know your risks. Middle-aged and older women have a higher risk. Along with age, other risks factors include:
Cervical cancer often has no symptoms. Warning signs can include abnormal vaginal bleeding, spotting, discharge or bleeding after sex. Signs of advanced cancer can include pain, trouble urinating and swollen legs.
Cervical cancer is largely preventable with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. The vaccine protects women against the two types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Together with regular Pap exams, the HPV vaccine helps women dramatically reduce their risk for cervical cancer.
A Pap test, also called a Pap smear, finds changes in cervical cells caused by HPV. These cells can become cancer if they are not treated. Talk with your doctor to learn more about testing and vaccination.
With smart, proactive steps, you can improve your chances of enjoying a longer and healthier life.
Originally published 1/272016; Revised 2019, 2023
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico, a Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association
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