Make your health a priority.

The week of May 11-17 marks National Women’s Health Week, an observance spearheaded by the Office on Women’s Health. As a supporter of this annual event, ANA joins this effort to motivate women across the United States to make their own health a priority. Employers, associations, and other organizations can participate. Offerings may include free health screenings, wellness fairs, and media outreach. National Women’s Health Week encourages women to receive regular preventive care, screenings, and check-ups; to be active, eat healthy, and tend to their mental health; and to avoid unhealthy behaviors, such as tobacco use and distracted driving. In honor of National Women’s Health Week, this article examines the following women’s health issues.

Breast health

Breast cancer is the most common cancer found in women and the second deadliest (after lung cancer). Women are approximately 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer than men.

You can mitigate your risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following: avoid obesity, limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink daily, exercise at least 4 hours a week, and breastfeed your infant if possible. If you’re considering or taking oral contraceptives or hormone
replacement therapy, consult your healthcare professional to determine if this is your best choice. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends women get a screening mammogram every year beginning
at age 40. For women ages 20 to 39, ACS recommends clinical breast exams by their healthcare professional at least every 3 years. At age 40, women should have a clinical breast exam annually. For more information, see www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/prevention.htm.

Reproductive health

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stresses the importance of the annual well-woman gynecologic appointment for preventive care, screenings, assessment, and treatment. Important parts of a routine gynecologic appointment are cancer screenings, including the aforementioned clinical breast exam. Cervical cancer screenings include both the Pap test and the human papillomavirus (HPV) test. Leading health authorities differ somewhat on how often these tests should be completed or when they are no longer necessary. Discuss these specifics during your annual ob/gyn visit with your healthcare professional to make the best choice for your situation. The Pap test does not screen for ovarian cancer; you will need to monitor your body and know your “normal.” There are specific tests available that may detect ovarian cancer. These are used on occasion when specific genetic mutations are present or a woman has a family history of ovarian cancer, a personal history of certain cancers, or unexplained signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. Vaginal and vulvar cancers are extremely rare; discuss your risks with your healthcare professional. As with many female cancers, including uterine, vaginal, vulvar, and ovarian, detection in early stages results in the most effective treatment.

Women’s heart health

Heart disease is the number-one cause of death in American women. Risk factors for heart disease include overweight or obesity, high cholesterol levels, sedentary lifestyle, tobacco use, diabetes, hypertension, poor diet, and excessive alcohol use. Symptoms of heart disease include angina and/or pain in the neck, throat, jaw, back, or upper abdomen, although some women may not experience any symptoms before a cardiac event. To reduce your risks, speak with your healthcare professional regarding diabetes screenings as well as cholesterol and triglyceride tests. Regularly get your blood pressure checked. Do not use tobacco products, don’t drink more than one alcoholic beverage daily, be active, and consume a healthy diet. The American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” initiative offers sharing opportunities, resources, tools, and ways to get involved with women’s heart health issues. See
www.goredforwomen.org for more information.

For more information about National Women’s Health Week, visit http://womenshealth.gov/nwhw or call 800-994-9662.

Holly Carpenter is a senior staff specialist in Nursing Practice and Work Environment at ANA.

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