When was your last check-up with your GP?

Having a regular check up with your doctor, and keeping track of your reproductive health, general health, and mental health and wellbeing are all essential to helping you stay healthy.

Keeping up with your Health Checks in your twenties and thirties might be the last thing you are concerned with, but it’s just as important to visit your GP for a check up at this stage as it is later in life. Women are recommended to have a general health and wellbeing check-ups once a year.

The topics in highlighted in pink are the health issues women need to discuss with their GP throughout each decade:

Women Checks

The below list is a quick snapshot of some of the unique health issues women face and how to avoid them.

Cervical Cancer

A cervical screening is important if you have ever been sexually active. Completed every five years, the test has now replaced the Pap test (since December 2017) and detects the human papillomavirus (HPV) cells in the cervix before they develop into cervical cancer. Although most cervical cancer can be prevented with vaccination, approximately 800 Australian women are diagnosed with the cancer each year. HPV is a common infection and affects most people at some point in their lives. As there are usually no symptoms, most people won’t know if they have HPV, but persistent HPV infection causes almost all cervical cancer.

Keep healthy by...Contacting your GP or health provider for a cervical screen; always use condoms when sexually active, and talk to your GP about vaccination against HPV. 

Breast Cancer

As the most common cancer in Australian women, it’s important to know your breasts and conduct regular self-checks to identify any changes. With regular self-checks, you’ll notice any changes in the size or shape of the breast or nipple as well as changes in the skin over the breast such as redness or dimpling, and lumps or lumpiness. Visit your GP if you notice any changes or if you have a family history. One in eight women will be diagnosed in their life whilst eight Australian women die of breast cancer every day. BreastScreen Australia offers free breast screening by mammogram every two years to women aged 50 – 69. It’s important to note this is a disease that also affects men.

Keep healthy by…Conducting regular self-examinations and maintaining regular breast screening to detect any cancer early as this offers the best chance for a successful outcome with further treatment. 

Ovarian Cancer

Although ovarian cancer can affect women of all ages, the likelihood of diagnosis increases with age as it’s most common in women who have experienced menopause. There isn’t a known cause of the cancer; however, you may have a higher risk with the following factors:

  • If you have a family history, are over fifty, or have experienced menopause
  • You are childless, infertile, or had your first child after thirty
  • Have never taken oral contraceptives
  • Have a gene mutation in the genes BRCA1 or BRCA2
  • Are of Northern European or Ashkenazi Jewish descent
  • Had early onset of periods (under 12 years) and late menopause
  • Have a medical condition like endometriosis
  • Smoke, are overweight/obese, or eat a high fat diet

Ovarian cancer can be difficult to diagnose in the early stages, as symptoms are very similar to other less serious conditions, and may be mistaken for pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The most common symptoms include:

  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Indigestion or heartburn
  • Abdominal bloating/feeling full
  • Abdominal, pelvic, or back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite loss or feeling full quickly
  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain

Keep healthy by…Identifying if you have any of these symptoms, noting if they persist for extended periods of time, and discussing them with your GP. You can keep a symptom diary to monitor your symptoms and share with your GP.

Bowel Cancer

Bowel cancer is a common cancer for both women and men; it’s one of the most preventable cancers if detected early and treated. The cancer occurs in any part of the large bowel (colon or rectum), with one in 13 women developing the cancer before the age of 85. The best way to reduce your risk is to:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Be active and limit alcohol
  • Limit your intake of red meat
  • Avoid smoking

You may not notice any symptoms of bowel cancer, with the main indication being  blood in the toilet, or in your stools.  If you have any changes to regular bowel habits, experience unexplained fatigue, or suffer from unusual or persistent abdominal pain, these could also be signs of bowel cancer and should be discussed with your doctor.  Your risk of developing bowl cancer may increase if you:

  • Have a family history of bowel cancer or polyps
  • Have a personal history of polyps or adenomas (pre-cancerous growths)
  • Are over 50 years of age
  • Have a history of inflammatory bowel disease (eg Crohn’s disease or chronic ulcerative colitis)

Keep healthy by…Eating a well-balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables; maintain a healthy body weight; be active; limit alcohol, and avoid smoking. If you are over 50, participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Early detection is important, as bowel cancer is one of the most curable cancers if found early. It’s important to talk with your GP if you notice any of the above symptoms.

Skin Cancer Checks

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. One in eight adults and one in five teenagers are sunburnt on an average summer weekend with it most commonly happening on cool and overcast days. Sunburn causes 95% of all melanomas which are the deadliest form of skin cancer. As with most cancers, early detection is preferable. It’s important to check your skin regularly and talk to your doctor about your level of risk and ask for advice on early detection. Become familiar with the look of your skin, so you can pick up on any changes that might suggest a skin cancer.

When checking your skin look out for:

  • Any crusty, non-healing sores
  • New spots, freckles, or any moles changing in colour, thickness, or shape over a period of weeks to months
  • Small lumps that are red, pale, or pearly in colour

Skin cancers can be treated. The most common treatment for skin cancer is surgery, but it can also be treated with ointments, radiotherapy, cryotherapy (using liquid nitrogen to freeze off the cancer), burning or scraping.

Keep healthy by…Protecting your skin! Always wear broad spectrum, water resistant high SPF sunscreen, wear sun-protective clothing including a hat, seek out shade and wear sunglasses. Always check your skin and discuss with your doctor any noticeable changes. 

To find your nearest Sonic HealthPlus GP click here.

References

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/health-checks-for-women

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/breast-screening

http://www.dhm.com.au/media/22105590/dhm_patientdl_cst_gynaepath.pdf

https://www.cancer.org.au/cervicalscreening/about/whatishpv

https://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/breast-cancer/

http://conditions.health.qld.gov.au/HealthCondition/condition/7/45/210/bowel-cancer

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/who-does-it-affect/women

https://www.cancer.org.au/preventing-cancer/sun-protection/about-skin-cancer.html

Kate Rowan-Robinson
RN, BN, GradDipSexol, MACN

As a key member of the Clinical Governance Team leading our Nurses, Kate has also contributed to the wider nursing community through her work outside Sonic HealthPlus. Kate has had several articles published in the International Journal of Nursing Practice, Nursing Standard, British Journal of Community Nursing and Public Health Nursing.

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Please note: Patients who attend for their medical assessment presenting with flu-like symptoms or have recently travelled from a COVID hotspot may be turned away.

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