ASK THE EXPERT: Prioritizing Women’s Health

Ask the Expert

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA)- Girls should have their first gynecologic visit between the ages of 13 and 15 years old, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Women’s health experts then recommend at least one “well-woman” visit annually.

As part of our ask the expert series, with Bon Secours St. Francis Health, 7 News Taylor Murray spoke with an ob-gyn about the importance of women prioritizing their health.

The “well-woman” visit or annual exam from the ob-gyn should be a priority, according to health experts.

These exams usually include checking height and weight, blood pressure, and other vitals, a breast exam, and a pelvic exam.

Dr. Brandi Alt an obstetrician-gynecologist says women should also get a routine pap smear, which is different from a pelvic exam that checks the reproductive organs.

“The pap smear actually screens. You will then use a tool or brush to obtain cells from inside the cervix and the outer wall of the cervix. That’s really screening for cervical cancer,” Dr. Alt said.

Dr. Brandi Alt, DO / OBGYN, Bon Secours St. Francis Health

Pap smear screening should start at age 21. If your pap smear is normal, you only need it repeated every three years until age 29. Then things change.

“After age 30, the guidelines sort of change a little bit. You still could continue with pap smears every three, but you also add HPV testing as well,” Dr. Alt said.

HPV testing looks for high-risk human papillomavirus which is the leading cause of cervical cancer. Early detection is key to survival.

Dr. Alt says mammograms are another important test to get regularly, but most women can start those at a later age.

“Mammograms should start at age 40 unless you have an index relative, like a mom or sister, who had breast cancer earlier. And if, for instance, your mom or sister had breast cancer at age 42, then you should start at around age 32 or 10 years before your index relative,” Dr. Alt said.

Mammograms should be repeated annually until about age 75.

Dr. Alt recommends adult women perform breast self-exams in addition to their clinical breast exam.

Some health experts recommend checking for lumps, thickening, or any other changes at least once a month.

Ask your ob-gyn to show you how to properly perform this self-exam.

To submit a health topic for our Ask the Expert series, click here.

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