What does women’s health mean to you?

Feb 18, 2024

By Michelle Okonieczny, FNP-BC, Medina Community Health, one of Oak Orchard Community Health Center

Yes, it is true, that women’s health can be confusing. So many rules and regulations! When do you get a mammogram or a Pap Smear? If you are at high risk for breast cancer, what are your options? What birth control is right for you? In this article, we will touch upon several topics related to women’s health that we hope will clear up the mystery around women’s health. These are all topics you should be discussing with your provider at Oak Orchard Health (OOH).

Early Detection of Breast Cancer

Mammograms and breast self-exams are two very important ways to detect cancer early. Early detection saves lives. The age range for a mammogram is 40-75 but talk with your provider if you want to get one earlier or continue past 75. The American College of Gynecology recommends mammograms yearly.

Breast ultrasounds are primarily used to find out if a problem discovered by a mammogram or physical exam of the breast may be a cyst filled with fluid or a solid tumor. Breast ultrasounds are also recommended for screening women with dense breast tissue along with a mammogram.

Breast MRIs may be recommended in addition to mammography if you are at high risk for breast cancer (usually because of a strong family history of cancer or genetic mutations, like BRCA1 or BRCA2). Or to gather more information after you have been diagnosed and to further evaluate breast abnormalities that are difficult to assess with mammography and breast ultrasound.

When and why should you get a Pap Smear?

The Pap test (or Pap Smear) looks for cancer, and cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.

Once you turn 21, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends that you have three annual pap smears. If all those are normal and you are HPV negative, then you can go every three years. Once you turn 30, you can have a Pap every 3-5 years depending on your Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) status. If you are positive for HPV that is considered high risk, and your chance of cervical cancer goes up. So those who are HPV positive should have annual Pap Smears.

Birth Control – so many choices

 If you are sexually active and do not want to get pregnant, consult with your Oak Orchard provider about the many options available. Some include birth control pills, patches, NuvaRing, condoms, and Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) including Nexplanon implants and IUDs, and Depo-Provera.

Did you know that you often do not need a pelvic exam to get birth control? Birth control pills come in
30-day packs, and you get your period each month, or 90-day pill packs and you get a period every three months. There is no medical reason to have a period, so these are safe options.

Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Testing is easier than you think.

 STD testing including urine and blood tests can detect STDs even if you do not have symptoms. Diseases like gonorrhea and chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease which can lead to infertility. Sometimes people can have these diseases with little or no symptoms. If caught early, they are highly treatable with an oral antibiotic. A simple urine test can detect gonorrhea and chlamydia. If you are positive, we can also treat your partner.

 What is the HPV Vaccine?

The HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Screening for HPV is effective in identifying precancerous lesions and allows for interventions that can prevent the development of cancer. The use of condoms may decrease the spread of the virus. The HPV Vaccination is effective in preventing the development of infection and related cancers. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends starting the series between ages 9-12 years and up to age 26. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all preteens need HPV vaccination, so they are protected from HPV infections that can cause cancer later in life. Even if you have had HPV, you should still get the vaccine.

According to the CDC, the HPV vaccine has the potential to prevent more than 90% of HPV-attributable cancers. Since the HPV vaccination was first recommended in 2006, HPV infections that cause most HPV cancers and genital warts have dropped 88% among teen girls and 81% among young adult women. The vaccine, often called Gardasil, is for both boys and girls. This vaccine not only prevents cervical cancer but also rectal, throat, and oral cancers, as well as penile cancer.

Call for an appointment at Oak Orchard Health at (585) 589-5613.

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