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Welcome to Episode Thirty of our Full Spectrum Wellness Podcast. I'm so happy and excited to be back here with you for our thirtieth episode.
Today I will be diving into an important topic that affects women's health across the United Kingdom: health screening, specifically focusing on breast and cervical screening.
At the time of recording it’s Cervical Screening Awareness Week and I recently attended my own screening amongst other tests and scans for Ovarian Cancer and a biopsy on the 2 week pathway for endometrial cancer at St Mary’s hospital in Manchester. It’s been a scary and stressful few months since I reported my symptoms to my GP back in November 2022 and thankfully I don’t have cancer but I am high risk because of my Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, along with the fact that I have never had a baby or pregnancy. I recently started a preventive treatment in the form of HRT so hopefully endometrial cancer will not develop. If it hadn’t been for the screenings, tests and scans I would have been non the wiser and would probably have put my symptoms down to my existing condition or menopause.
One of my dear friends has also been through breast screening recently and unfortunately for her the story is very different but she has had lifesaving surgery and is about to embark on a regimen of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She will be joining me as a guest on a future episode to share her inspiring story and journey to wellness.
So you can already see why regular health screening is crucial. Screenings are preventive measures that help detect potential health issues before they become more serious. They give us the opportunity to catch any problems early, which often leads to more successful treatment outcomes.
Now, let's begin with breast screening. Breast cancer is the
most common cancer among women in the UK, and early detection is key to
increasing survival rates. The NHS offers breast screening to women aged 50 to
71, inviting them every three years for a mammogram. Mammography is a low-dose X-ray that can detect small changes or abnormalities in breast tissue, often before they can be felt. By detecting potential breast cancer early, the chances of successful treatment and improved outcomes significantly increase.
However, it's important to note that women of all ages should be breast-aware and report any changes or concerns to their healthcare provider promptly. Self-examination and being familiar with the look and feel of your breasts are also valuable practices for all women. Breast awareness involves getting to know how your breasts normally look and feel so that you can identify any changes or abnormalities. Self-examination is a valuable practice that every woman can incorporate into her routine. If you notice any changes, such as lumps, thickening, nipple discharge, or changes in the shape or appearance of your breasts, it's vital to seek medical attention promptly.
Moving on to cervical screening, commonly known as a "smear
test." Cervical cancer is largely preventable, and regular screenings play
a vital role in its prevention. The NHS invites women between the ages of 25
and 64 for cervical screening every three to five years, depending on their
age. During the test, a small sample of cells is taken from the cervix to check
for any abnormalities that may lead to cervical cancer. These screenings have proven
to be highly effective in reducing the incidence of cervical cancer and saving
Now, did you know that Cervical cancer is the most common form of cancer in women under 35 with two women in the UK per day dying from the disease? Regular cervical screening appointments can prevent up to 75% of instances of cervical cancer, saving 5000 lives per year but did you also know that almost one in three women and people with a cervix don’t take up their invite?
Many women may feel anxious or uncomfortable about these tests, and
absolutely anxiety and discomfort are understandable emotions but remember that healthcare professionals are there to support and guide you through the process. Your comfort and well-being are their top priorities, so don't hesitate to voice any
concerns you may have.
We know that cervical screening isn’t easy for everyone. When I attended my
cervical screening and had my biopsy it wasn't a pleasant experience, but I used deep breathing techniques during the procedures to help calm my nerves and
deal with the discomfort.
It's also worth noting that health screenings are free of charge
through the NHS in the UK as part of the national screening programs. So there's no financial barrier preventing you from taking care of your health. Make sure you're registered with a GP and keep an eye out for your screening invitations. If you miss an appointment or are unsure about your eligibility, contact your GP or healthcare provider to ensure you receive the necessary care.
However, there are also private healthcare options available for those who prefer
additional screenings or wish to access them at different intervals. Private
screenings may offer a wider range of tests, including genetic screenings for
hereditary conditions or more in-depth assessments of specific health markers.
It's important to consider your individual needs, preferences, and budget when
making decisions about private screenings.
In addition to breast and cervical screenings, there are other health screenings available that cater to different aspects of women's health. These may include screenings for osteoporosis, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and cardiovascular health. It's essential to stay informed about these screenings and consult with your healthcare provider to determine which ones are relevant to you based on your age, medical history, family history, and lifestyle choices and risk factors.
Osteoporosis is a condition characterised by the loss of bone density, making bones weak and prone to fractures. It predominantly affects postmenopausal women but can also occur in men and younger women. The National Osteoporosis Society recommends a bone density scan, also known as a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan, for women over the age of 50 or younger women with specific risk factors. This scan measures bone mineral density and helps identify individuals at risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Early detection allows for timely interventions such as lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments, and medications to prevent further bone loss and maintain bone health.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are another important area to consider. Regular STI screenings are crucial for sexually active women, regardless of age. The NHS provides free and confidential STI testing, including tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV. These screenings not only help in the early detection and treatment of STIs but also prevent the transmission to partners and potential long-term health complications. It's essential to normalise conversations about sexual health and promote regular STI screenings as part of a comprehensive approach to women's wellness.
Cardiovascular health screenings are equally important for women. Cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke, are leading causes of death among women in the UK. Regular blood pressure checks, cholesterol level assessments, and blood sugar screenings are key components of cardiovascular health screening. These screenings help identify risk factors and allow healthcare providers to develop personalised prevention and management strategies. Additionally, lifestyle modifications such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, smoking cessation, and stress management are crucial for maintaining heart health.
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, affecting both men and women. The NHS offers bowel cancer screening to individuals aged 60 to 74, providing a home testing kit called the fecal occult blood test (FOBT). This test helps detect small traces of blood in the stool, which can be an early sign of bowel cancer or other bowel conditions. Early detection allows for timely intervention and improved treatment outcomes. It's crucial to complete the test and send it back as soon as you receive it to ensure the best possible results.
For women planning to start a family or already pregnant, prenatal and antenatal screenings are vital. These screenings help assess the health of both the mother and the developing baby. Prenatal screenings, such as ultrasound scans and blood tests, can help identify any potential genetic or structural abnormalities in the fetus. Antenatal screenings, including blood pressure monitoring, urine tests, and fetal heart rate monitoring, are performed throughout pregnancy to ensure the well-being of both mother and baby. These screenings enable healthcare providers to provide appropriate care, support, and interventions when necessary.
Another significant aspect of women's health screening involves mental health and emotional well-being. Mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, affect a substantial number of women. Regular mental health check-ins with healthcare professionals can help identify early signs of distress and ensure appropriate support and treatment are provided. These screenings are particularly important during significant life transitions, such as pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause, when hormonal changes can impact mental well-being.
Women's health organisations and charities in the UK provide valuable resources and information on various health screenings. It's essential to stay informed about the latest guidelines and recommendations. Additionally, staying proactive in scheduling and attending screenings, as well as maintaining open communication with healthcare providers, ensures comprehensive care for women's health.
In addition to the specific screenings we have talked about, it's important to mention the significance of regular health check-ups and preventive care. Comprehensive health check-ups, which may include blood tests, cholesterol level assessments, and overall health evaluations, provide a holistic view of your well-being. These check-ups help identify risk factors, address any concerns, and allow healthcare providers to create personalised prevention plans tailored to your needs.
Lastly, it's crucial to emphasise the importance of self-care and health promotion practices in conjunction with screenings. Engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet, managing stress levels, getting sufficient sleep, and avoiding harmful habits such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption are all vital components of maintaining optimal health. These lifestyle choices work synergistically with screenings to promote overall well-being and reduce the risk of developing various health conditions.
Remember, health screenings are not something to be feared or avoided. They are an empowering tool that allows you to take control of your health and well-being. By participating in regular screenings, you're investing in a healthier future for yourself. And they might just save your life!
That's all for today's episode of The Full Spectrum Wellness
Podcast. I hope you found this discussion on health screenings enlightening and
encouraging. As always, take care of yourself and stay tuned for our next
episode where we'll explore another aspect of holistic wellness. Until then, be