“Don’t forget your Galentines”: Health Screening
So… it’s Valentine season and many of us are recovering from those special plans we had with that special guy, girl, or person in our lives. Some of you, like me, are thinking of how we’re gonna spend the day trying to forget drinking that big bottle of Merlot alone. However, I bet not a lot of you are thinking about which health screenings you need to get this year. I know, health screenings aren’t the sexiest thing to think about in February, but you know what’s even less sexy? Missing early detection of a detrimental disease because you weren’t screened for it.
It turns out, Black women are more likely to die from cervical, breast, and colorectal cancer due to limited access to timely screening and detection. Let’s make it our job to make sure everyone, especially those special Galentines in our lives, are getting their recommended routine screenings for these and other diseases. It gets confusing sometimes, we get it. There’s a lot to remember and some of us don’t go to the doctor often enough to be reminded by them. Well don’t worry, we’re gonna go through all of those right here in one place AND by age just to make it a bit easier. Print it. Frame it. DON’T forget it.
If you are…
Any age under 25 and sexually active: Get screened for sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphylis. Do this once a year and/or in between every partner. And keep in mind- safe sex is sexy sex. The only thing that protects you from these is condoms.
15 and over: You need a HIV test at least once in your lifetime. If you are high risk (which includes any use of injection drugs, any intercourse without condom, a history of an STI, a partner with HIV or another STI) then you should def get tested more often.
21 and over: Get. That. Pap Smear. Cervical cancer is no joke sis/sibling. These are so important. Yes, they’re uncomfortable but they're necessary. We discussed the specifics of timing 4 blog posts ago, so refer to that for the details and alternatives to testing. At the very least get that pap every 3 years until you turn 30 and then luckily it spaces out to every 5 years until age 65.
25 and over: You may still need screening for STI’s if you are at risk. Risk factors include a previous STI, a new partner or multiple partners, a partner with STI, inconsistent condom use,or any sex work. Yes, get screened even if you feel fine. Many of these STI’s are asymptomatic but can cause long term problems like damage to your fertility.
40 and over: Don’t forget that mammogram every 2 years. This is earlier than White women (who usually start mammos at age 50) since research has shown this reduced black-white mortality disparities by more than 50%.
45 and over: Now it’s time for colon cancer screening. There are a couple of options for testing. The least uncomfortable is probably a fecal occult blood test (looks for blood in your stool), but you have to do this every year. You could also get a colonoscopy every 10 years, a sigmoidoscopy (which only looks at a part of your colon) every 5 years, or sigmoidoscopy every 10 years if you also do a fecal occult blood test yearly. Many options means there’s never an excuse to skip screening.
50 and over: This is only necessary if you have a history of heavy smoking and you are still smoking or have quit within the last 15 years. In this case, get an annual chest CT to look for any sign of lung cancer.
65 and over: Talk to your moms and grandmas. At this age, we need a Dexa scan which looks at bone density and screens for osteoporosis. If you/your mom/your grandma are under 65 but postmenopausal and at risk (which includes any of these: smoking, alcohol use, steroid medications, low body weight or parent who has had a hip fracture), you might need to get this scan before age 65, so discuss this with your doctor.
And because you read this blog, you may have an upper hand on your friends in terms of knowing these things. Talk to your friends and make sure they’re keeping up with their stuff too. Don’t forget: there is no more important Valentines than our own and our friends’ health. Stay healthy. Stay sexy. Stay alive.