When it comes to personal wellbeing, many women hold off visiting the doctor until there’s something wrong, even though most health organizations recommend annual exams.
But according to Dr. Peter Argenta, a University of Minnesota Physicians OB/GYN and gynecologic oncology expert, the importance of a yearly exam is twofold:
1. Building the patient-physician relationship. A woman should have an established relationship with a physician who knows how she looks when she’s well, which will help her doctor better interpret changes that happen if she’s sick. Annual exams help build this relationship.
2. Preventative screening. For women at normal risk, preventative screening is recommended to start at age 21, when women should begin cervical cancer screening. Breast cancer screening begins at age 40, and colon cancer screening starts at age 50.
“Most conditions are better treated early in the course of disease, including common conditions such as hypertension and diabetes,” said Argenta. “Some conditions such as colon and cervix cancer can be avoided entirely with routine health maintenance and in these cases, an ounce of prevention may be worth more than a pound of cure.”
So, when do women need to start annual checkups?
Argenta recommends starting annual exams at or around age 18 for women. While this is not a time that medical problems typically present themselves, it’s a great time to start talking about preventative care and building a relationship with a physician. A woman should feel comfortable enough with her doctor to ask about her weight, diet, upcoming screenings and any medications, knowing the doctor is familiar with her history.
For women who want to know what else they can do to stay healthy, Argenta shares the same advice with each of his patients: “Stop or don’t start smoking, wear your seatbelt and monitor your weight no less than once a month. Doing these three things demonstrably saves lives.”