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Girl Putting her Headset to Run

How Women can Make Sure Their Health is on Track

COVID-19 doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. But neither are breast cancer, cervical cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.

We have focused so much of our attention on protecting our families and ourselves from the coronavirus that we may have neglected the vital screenings necessary to protect us from these other potentially deadly diseases.

Health screenings have plummeted since the start of the pandemic according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women have foregone or delayed important screenings for breast and cervical cancer. The expectation is this could lead to more cases at later stages.

The same is true for screenings of heart disease, diabetes, and other preventive screening procedures. But it doesn’t have to be that way. AltaMed is going above and beyond to protect your health, including telehealth visits and keeping facilities clean and sterilized according to the highest standards put forth by the CDC.

While some common conditions and issues can be taken care of with a telephone or video chat with your doctor, there are still many preventive treatments and services for women that need to happen in person including routine mammograms, Pap tests, blood pressure screenings, and evaluations to determine if you are taking the right dosage of medication.

Many of these visits are covered at no charge by your health plan, so call us for details and to schedule!

Woman in Mammogram X-Ray Test

Why You Need a Mammogram

Women have about a 1 in 8 chance that they’ll develop breast cancer in their lifetime. A mammogram — an X-ray picture of the breast — is the best way to spot potential breast cancer early.

Your unique family history and personal risk factors will determine when you should start getting mammograms. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends healthy women of average risk, get a mammogram once every two years from age 50 to 74. Your doctor could recommend getting a mammogram as early as age 40 if you have a parent, sibling, or child who has had breast cancer.

It is also recommended that you become familiar with what your breasts normally look and feel like. If this changes, make an appointment to see your doctor.

How Often to Screen for Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer used to be one of the most common causes of death for women in the United States. Advances in Pap tests, including increased usage, cut cervical cancer deaths dramatically.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends:

  • Get a Pap test every three years if you are between the ages of 21 and 29.
  • APap smear with specific HPV testing every five years is routine if you are between the ages of 30 and 65.

Your doctor will make recommendations based on your own unique health history and your family history.

Doctor Explaining the Results Analysis

Schedule Your Well-Woman Visit

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends the first visit happen at age 13 – 15. Well-woman visits are essential and should be scheduled in addition to your mammograms and Pap tests.

Because well-woman visits focus on preventive care, each visit may be slightly different based on your age and unique health needs. Your visit may include:

  • Age-appropriate immunizations (for example, the flu vaccine or a TD shot, if needed)
  • Age-appropriate health screenings, which could include checking your blood pressure or a pelvic floor exam
  • Recommendations for additional testing to screen for cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or depression, as needed

Your doctor will likely ask about your health history and any health goals. They will offer recommendations to help you achieve those goals. To make the most of these visits, come prepared: think about any health questions you have, in advance, and take notes.

We’re Here for Every Age and Every Stage of Your Life

Trust AltaMed to support your unique health needs. From primary care and specialists to dentistry, behavioral health services, and pharmacy, we are dedicated to caring for women and those they love. Schedule an appointment today.

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Mammograms

Mammograms Are a Powerful Tool for the Early Detection of Breast Cancer

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 330,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women this year. It is the second most common cancer in American women after skin cancers. There is a 1 in 8 chance that a woman will develop breast cancer sometime in her life.

Breast cancer is also the second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer. More than 43,000 women will die this year from breast cancer.

Breast cancer death rates have been relatively steady since 2007 in women younger than 50. They have continued to decrease in older women, dropping 1% each year from 2013 to 2018.

Early detection as the result of better screening techniques is believed to be one reason for the drop. One extremely powerful tool in the hunt for breast cancer is the mammogram.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast that can help doctors find early signs of breast cancer. It is considered one of the best ways to detect breast cancer early, sometimes several years before it can be felt.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends women get a mammogram every other year starting when they turn 50. Any woman with a close relative (parent, sibling, or child) who has had breast cancer should talk to their doctor about getting a mammogram earlier. 

Screening mammograms are done when there are no symptoms or signs of cancer. These usually involve taking at least two images of each breast.

Diagnostic mammograms are done where there is evidence of breast cancer like a lump, breast pain, thickening of the skin of the breast, change in breast size, or nipple discharge. Diagnostic mammograms usually take longer and require more images.

Doctor Checking Brain Radiography

Pros and cons

Early detection with screening mammograms has been shown to reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer in women from 40 to 74, especially for those over 50. There have been no studies to show the benefits of regular screening before 40.

Just like any health care procedure, patients need to talk with their doctors about the benefits and risks of any screening. While mammograms are a great tool, there are some risks to consider.
 

  • False positives — Sometimes radiologists find an abnormality that is not cancer. Any anomaly should be followed up with a diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound, or biopsy. These false-positive results can lead to anxiety and are most common in younger women.
  • Overdiagnosis and overtreatment — Some screening mammograms find noninvasive tumors in the lining of breast ducts called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). It should be treated but it is not life threatening.
  • False negatives — Cancer is missed in about 20% of the screening mammograms. This can lead to delays in treatment. This sometimes occurs when the woman has dense breasts.
  • Not always lifesaving — Detection does not always result in a positive outcome. The cancer may have already spread, or the woman may have other life-threatening health conditions.
  • Radiation — The amount of radiation from a mammogram is very small, but repeated exposure could cause cancer. The benefits often outweigh the risk, but it is important for the patient to speak with their doctor.

When you get a mammogram for the first time there are a few things you can do to prepare. Your mammogram may require follow-up with an ultrasound or a discussion with your doctor.  

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Here for your unique needs

Women have unique health needs at every stage of their lives — from adolescence to motherhood, and beyond! As we’ve read, women have a higher risk than men of developing breast cancer, heart disease, thyroid issues, and stroke. They need compassionate care that takes all these needs into account.

AltaMed’s experienced team of bilingual and caring doctors takes pride in keeping you healthy at every age, offering you personalized, discreet care for your physical and mental well-being.

Through the State of California’s Department of Health Care Services, the Every Woman Counts program (EWC) provides free early detection cancer screenings, including mammograms. Women who don’t qualify for free EWC screenings can ask about referrals for low-cost options.  

Let our team of bilingual certified enrollment counselors help you explore program options that work best for you and your family.

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Hand on Head Menopause

There Is More to Menopause Than the End of Your Monthly Period

We typically think that a woman enters menopause when it’s been twelve months since her last menstrual period – in fact, the word menopause literally means “the end of monthly cycles.” However, even before your periods end, major hormonal changes are occurring in your body. These changes can last for years and they affect each woman differently.

AltaMed is here to help provide some answers and guidance about what you or your partner may be experiencing or expecting as you approach your mid-40s and 50s.

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A Change in Hormones

The transition toward menopause starts as the ovaries produce less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This stage is called perimenopause. It typically starts between 45 and 51 years of age, but some women begin perimenopause in their 30s. Perimenopause can last between four and eight years.

A number of symptoms can appear during this time, including:
 

  • A change in periods. They become irregular, can be shorter or longer, and can be heavier or lighter.

  • Hot flashes or night sweats

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Vaginal dryness

  • Mood swings Depression

  • Trouble focusing

  • Hair loss or change in texture (e.g., becoming drier or more brittle)

  • More facial hair

  • Weight gain

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Hormone Therapy May Help

Menopause symptoms can lead women to seek relief from their doctors, who may recommend hormone therapy (also called hormone replacement therapy). These treatments are intended to lessen the severity of the symptoms and make up for reduced levels of estrogen and progesterone. It may include just estrogen, just progestin, a combination of the two, or a combination of estrogen and other medications.

Hormone therapy is not right for everyone. Some women experience moderate side effects, which may include fluid retention and mood swings. Some types of therapy may increase the risks of blood clots and stroke. It is important to ask your health care provider about the different options and make sure they are aware of any medical conditions you have.

Senior Woman Talking with Doctor

Health Concerns with Menopause

Everyone faces increased health risks as they get older. Women, however, face higher risks of developing certain conditions because their estrogen and progesterone levels are extremely low due to menopause. Those conditions include:
 

  • Heart disease — Estrogen helps blood vessels stay relaxed. Once it’s gone, cholesterol can start building up on artery walls.

  • Stroke — The risk doubles every decade after 55. Cholesterol build-up is another potential culprit.

  • Osteoporosis — Without estrogen, women lose bone mass more quickly, which could cause bones to break more easily.

  • Unhealthy levels of lead in the blood — Any lead exposure over a lifetime is stored in the bones. If the bones are breaking down because of osteoporosis, the lead may be released into the blood. That increases the risk of high blood pressure and a hardening of the arteries. It can also make it harder to think.

  • Urinary incontinence — Lower estrogen levels could weaken the urethra making it harder to control urination.

  • Oral issues — Dry mouth can become a problem after menopause and increase the risk of cavities.

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Taking Control of Your Health

Menopause doesn’t have to be a troublesome time. Being healthy can help you have more success dealing with these age-related changes.
 

  • Quit smoking — Smoking damages bones and can lead to heart disease.

  • Exercise — Just 30 minutes of physical activity a day helps the bones, heart, and mood. Weight-bearing exercise (anything where you’re on your feet and resisting gravity) can help strengthen your bones and fight osteoporosis.

  • Eat well — Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, healthy grains, and lean proteins to fuel your body.

  • Supplements — As you age, you may need more B12, B6, and Vitamin D. Ask your doctor for recommendations.

  • Practice safe sex — You can’t get pregnant after menopause, but you can still get a sexually transmitted infection from unprotected sex.

  • Seek out counseling if you need it: Mood swings and feelings of depression or anxiety are common at this time. Don’t dismiss these feelings as “just hormones.” If these negative feelings persist and interfere with your ability to enjoy your life, seek help.

Keep Coming to AltaMed for Age-Appropriate Well-Woman Visits

All women need regular checkups and screenings throughout their lives, including before, during, and after menopause. Mammograms are recommended through the age of 75. Women who still have their cervix should get regular Pap and HPV tests every five years until age 65.

AltaMed is here to help women live their happiest, healthiest lives. Our services include well-woman exams, routine screenings, mammograms, behavioral health, testing for STIs, and more. Many of those services are free. You can always contact AltaMed for any questions about women’s health, no matter your stage of life.

Call us at  (888) 499-9303  to schedule an appointment with your provider or visit altamed.org/womens-health for more information.

How Women can Make Sure Their Health is on Track