Routine medical appointments are key to your health. Many patients assume their primary care provider can cover all their needs. For women, it’s important to visit an ob-gyn as well.
Here are five ways that your ob-gyn can serve as an ally in preventing cancer.
1. An Ob-Gyn Can Screen For Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer (after skin cancer) among American women, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). It is the second highest cause of cancer deaths in women after lung cancer.
During a visit, your ob-gyn may ask about your family and personal history to determine your risk of breast cancer. Your doctor also might perform a physical exam to check for breast lumps or masses, and ask if you have noticed any changes in your breasts.
Depending on your age and other risk factors, your ob-gyn may recommend a screening mammogram. According to recommendations from the ACS, women ages 45 to 54 should have an annual mammogram. These guidelines are for women with an average risk of breast cancer. Women ages of 40 and 44 may choose to get an annual mammogram. You should discuss with your doctor what is right for you.
2. An Ob-Gyn Can Screen For Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is most commonly found in women between the ages of 35 and 44, according to the ACS. A Pap test is a simple test your ob-gyn can perform to screen for cervical cancer.
Your ob-gyn will typically perform two types of internal screenings: a pelvic exam and a Pap smear. During the pelvic exam, your doctor will check your ovaries and uterus for any lumps. During a Pap smear, the doctor collects cells from the interior wall of the cervix to screen for abnormalities.
Depending on the results, your ob-gyn may recommend additional testing.
Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every three years. From age 30 to 65, women who have had normal results should have both a Pap test and an HPV test every five years.
The HPV test tells your doctor if you’ve been infected with human papillomavirus. According to the ACS, HPVs are a group of more than 150 related viruses. Some types of HPV are known to cause cancer, including cancer of the cervix.
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3. An Ob-Gyn Can Recommend The HPV Vaccine, If Needed
The HPV vaccine can help prevent infection by the high-risk strains of HPV and reduce the risk of cancers linked to HPV infection. This includes cancer of the cervix, as well as cancer of the vulva and vagina.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends the HPV vaccine for everyone through age 26 — if you didn’t already have the vaccine as a child.
If you’re 27 to 45 years old and have never had the vaccine, talk with your ob-gyn. Your doctor can help you decide if the HPV vaccine is right for you.
4. An Ob-Gyn Can Help Evaluate Hereditary Cancer Risk
Some women are more likely than others to get certain types of cancers, such as breast or ovarian cancer. That’s because they have a strong family history of one or more types of cancer. If you have a strong family history of cancer, you may be carrying a gene that makes you more susceptible to one or more types of cancer.
Your ob-gyn can discuss your family history with you. Your doctor can help you decide whether you should pursue genetic testing or talk with a genetic counselor. Both can help determine your chances of developing certain types of cancer. The results also can help your ob-gyn decide if you need additional testing.
An ob-gyn also can educate you about the symptoms of cancers that you are at elevated risk for developing. That way you can seek help early.
5. An Ob-Gyn Can Discuss Healthy Habits
While there are a number of hereditary risk factors for cancer, you can lower other risk factors by following a healthy lifestyle. An ob-gyn can discuss the importance of eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting enough exercise. Your doctor also can offer tips to quit smoking and guidance about alcohol consumption. All these steps may help lower your risk for cancer, says the ACS.
How Common is Breast Cancer? Cancer.net, accessed June 8, 2020 Link
American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer, Cancer.org, accessed June 8, 2020, Link
Key Statistics for Cervical Cancer, Cancer.net, accessed June 8, 2020 Link
What is HPV? Cancer.net, accessed June 9, 2020 Link
HPV Vaccine Recommendations, CDC.gov, Accessed June 9, 2020, Link
What is genetic testing? NIH.gov, accessed June 9, 2020, Link
Diet and Physical Activity: What's the Cancer Connection? Cancer.net, accessed June 8, 2020 Link
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