For women, healthcare means making time for self-care

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Soldrea Thompson

The growing focus on health and wellness has inspired more women to take better care of themselves, even while they continue to put their family's health first. This May, Women's Health Month serves as a reminder that healthcare for women is self-care.

Thanks to breast cancer organizations like Susan G. Komen, women are more aware of the things they should be doing to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer, a disease expected to kill 41,760 women in the U.S. in 2019.

Those preventive measures include yearly mammograms starting at age 40. The noninvasive imaging test is the best way to find breast cancer early when it's easier to treat. In South Carolina, women can have a mammogram without a doctor's referral order.

Once a baseline mammogram is taken, your physician can tell you if you have dense breasts, which increases your risk of breast cancer and makes it more difficult to detect tumors using traditional two-dimensional mammography.

If you are one of the nearly 50 percent of women with dense breast tissue, your doctor might recommend you have 3-D mammograms going forward. Also known as tomosynthesis, it has been shown to improve the radiologist's ability to diagnose breast cancer and reduce the number of false positives.

Along with an annual mammogram, women should have yearly checkups with a gynecologist that include clinical breast and pelvic exams. After age 65, you can visit your gynecologist every two years.

From age 21 to 29, women also should have a Pap smear every three years. Starting at age 30, some doctors will also test for certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that increase cervical cancer risk. The Pap/HPV test should be performed every five years until the age of 65, even if you have had the HPV vaccine.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, but it doesn't receive nearly the attention of breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society used to recommend colorectal cancer screening starting at age 50 for women at average risk of developing the disease. It's now age 45. If the test results are normal, colonoscopies should be performed every 10 years.

Because of the elevated sun exposure in the South, I also recommend annual skin cancer screenings with a dermatologist.

A nutritious diet will go a long way in helping maintain your health, but it's difficult to get all the nutrients and vitamins your body needs from food alone. I recommend women over 40 take 1,000 IUs of vitamin D and 1,000 mgs of calcium each day.

Before you begin taking any supplements, talk to your physician about your individual health issues.

And, of course, you should exercise regularly. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.

Your mental health also should not be overlooked. Take a mental health break, which could include yoga or meditation, for at least 15 minutes a day. A little bit of downtime will help you live your best life.

Dr. Soldrea Thompson, a board-certified OB-GYN, practices with Beaufort Memorial Obstetrics and Gynecology Specialists and sees patients in both Bluffton and Beaufort.

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