As we age, women are asked to undergo a series of routine tests as a means of preventative care. Have you ever wondered exactly when and how these tests are performed and what they are checking for? Let’s examine a few of the most common procedures or tests.
Mammography refers to a specific type of imaging that uses a low-dose X-ray to examine the breast tissue for abnormalities. Current American Medical Association guidelines call for screening mammograms annually once women reach age 40. The test may be performed earlier if changes in the breasts are detected during manual self-exams, which should be performed monthly.
A radiologic technologist will position your breast in the mammography unit, placing it on a special platform and compressing it with a paddle. Compression, although uncomfortable, allows for the use of a lower X-ray dose and ensures that more of the tissue will be visible. The process generally takes less than 30 minutes. A radiologist will interpret the results and send a report to your referring physician.
A colonoscopy allows your doctor to look at the lining of your large intestine. It is used as a screening test to check for abnormalities or precancerous growths in the colon or rectum. Prior to undergoing a colonoscopy, colon cleansing, which typically takes 24-48 hours, is necessary. Some clinicians may order a prescription solution, while others will prescribe a combination of over-the-counter products intended to produce the same laxative effect. For some, preparation is the worst part of the colonoscopy.
You may be given a sedative to help you relax during the procedure. The doctor will thread a thin, flexible colonoscope through the colon. He or she can see the lining through the scope or on a computer monitor attached to it. During a colonoscopy tissue samples may be collected (biopsy) and abnormal growths can be removed.
Most experts recommend that those with no risk factors begin screening for colorectal cancers at age 50. For those with risk factors, such as a family history of early colorectal cancers, screening should begin at age 40 and be repeated every three to five years.
A cholesterol test or lipid profile is a blood test that measures the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. These measurements help to assess your risk for coronary artery disease or vascular disease. Four types of lipids (fats) are measured:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol which can cause fatty deposits to develop in your arteries.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is the “good” cholesterol which helps to flush out the LDL cholesterol.
- Triglycerides are a form of fat in the blood caused by regularly consuming more calories than you burn.
- Total cholesterol is the sum of your blood’s cholesterol content.
According to the American Heart Association, baseline cholesterol testing should be done at age 20 and repeated every five years. If you have elevated cholesterol levels, more frequent testing may be needed.
Bone-density tests measure how much calcium and bone mineral is packed into a segment of bone. The tests are non-invasive and require virtually no preparation. The most common type is called a Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) scan. With a DEXA machine, you lie on a table while the scanner passes over your body measuring the hip and spine. Smaller units which measure the forearm or finger are portable. You will be given a score (called a T-score) which compares your bone density to that of a sample population. Bone density testing should be done by age 60, but screenings may be advisable for women as young as 35, particularly if there is a family history or risk factors present, such as a history of broken bones or a petite build.
Regular tests and screenings along with healthy habits can help you safeguard your health. A healthy mom means a happy family, so take care of yourself.
Shannon Fields is a freelance writer and a Certified Pharmacy Technician at Innovative Pharmacy Solutions. She holds a BA in Psychology with a minor in English from the University of Central Oklahoma. Shannon lives in Edmond with her husband and two daughters.