While modern day science and medicine have yet to confirm what definitively causes the cancers women are prone to face, they have come a long way in detecting signs early enough to provide treatment. In addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, women can have their doctors perform annual cancer screenings. These procedures may find signs of cancer early and allow doctors to treat the affected cells.
Every woman, once she turns eighteen, should get an annual check up with her gynecologist. If she is sexually active at an even younger age, regular visits should begin at that point. During these examinations, doctors will perform various exams to ensure that a woman is healthy. One of the exams every woman should request is a Pap smear with an HPV screening.
Commonly known as HPV, the Human Papillomavirus is a common infection with more than 100 different strains – 40 of which can affect the genital areas of either sex. Few types of HPV can actually cause cells to change, but these mutations have been linked to cervical cancer in women.
A Pap smear takes a sample of the cells in the cervix to monitor if they are precancerous. It is recommended that all women aged 21 through 65 should have this test done on an annual basis. During the exam, a doctor uses a speculum that is inserted into the vagina to guide a swab into the cervix to take a sample. Thankfully, because of the regularity of these tests, only an average of 1 in 1,000 women exposed to the cancerous HPV strain will develop cervical cancer.
As women age, it is recommended that they have a mammogram every 2 years after the age of 40. This is an x-ray exam used to supplement the breast exam a gynecologist performs during an annual check-up. The x-ray aims to find changes deemed abnormal that cannot be felt on the surface of the breast.
By using a special low-dose machine, the x-ray technician captures an image of the breast by placing each between a plastic plate and an x-ray plate. These plates compress the breast and flatten the tissue so the machine can produce a clearer image.
If a symptom or a lump is found during the screening mammogram, the patient might be asked to have a diagnostic mammogram to confirm any findings. The combination of these exams provides the most effective way of detecting breast cancer and treating it early.