Even if you feel well, you should be regularly screened for common illnesses. It’s recommended that all women take the following tests to detect and treat diseases before they cause serious consequences.
1. Pap Test
The Pap test detects precancerous cells of the cervix and helps preventing cervical cancer. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends you take this test every one to three years from the time you become sexually active, or from age 21 to 69. At 70 years old, the need for further testing should be discussed with your doctor. Testing is important even if you have been vaccinated against HPV (the origin of cervical cancer) because the vaccine does not cover all types of HPV—over forty of them can be transmitted sexually.
It’s important to remember that no screening test for cancer, including mammography, is foolproof. However, mammography is the most recognized and reliable way to detect breast cancer. Research has shown that women who take this test regularly are less likely to have false-positive results. The screening consists of a simple x-ray of your breasts. In a woman who has no symptoms, it can detect even small malignant tumors imperceptible by touch. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that all women aged 50 to 69 undergo mammography every two years. But for women with a family history of breast cancer (mother, sister, or daughter diagnosed with breast cancer, especially before menopause), it’s important to start breast cancer screenings even earlier, and to continue them annually. Other personal situations may also require an annual mammography. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about it.
3. Bone Mineral Density (BMD) Test
This x-ray exam is used to diagnose osteoporosis. It is safe, painless and causes no discomfort. It measures the density of bone tissue and gives a precise indication of the stage of the disease. It also determines a woman’s risk of developing the disease in the future. Osteoporosis Canada recommends that all women aged 65 and older be tested for bone mineral density (BMD) by osteodensitometry. Earlier tests are recommended if you smoke, use certain medications, or have other health problems affecting bone mass. Consult your doctor or pharmacist for more information.
4. Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)
This test is recommended to detect and treat colorectal cancer before signs and symptoms appear or in the early stages. Cancers located in the large intestine can leave traces of blood in the stool, which are invisible to the naked eye. Blood in the stool is often the first sign of cancer. The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) replaced the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) used until recently. This new test is conducted at home, easier to perform, and comes with no dietary restrictions. The Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada recommends anyone aged 50 and over to take the test at least every two years, even if there are no symptoms or family history of colorectal cancer. People with a heightened risk of developing colorectal cancer should talk to their doctors to start testing earlier and more frequently.