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Women's Health

5 Lifesaving Tests for Women

WebMD ranks the top five lifesaving health tests every woman needs.
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No. 3 The Benefit of Mammograms

Women aged 40 and older should get a mammogram (breast X-ray) every one or two years, Greenberger says. "If there is a history of breast cancer in her family, a woman should get her first mammogram 10 years before her relative was diagnosed," she tells WebMD. Women older than 50 should have annual mammograms. Unfortunately, studies have suggested that women may not be getting their annual mammograms. "Some women just don't want to know, but with breast cancer being treatable in many cases and even curable, every woman should be getting this," she says.

Moore agrees: "If we catch a breast cancer in stage I, 97% of women who have it will be cured," she says. "As inconvenient as it is to schedule a mammogram, if it comes back clean, we know we are in the free and clear for a year, and that's reassuring."

In addition, women in their 20s and 30s should have a breast exam by a doctor every three years to feel for suspicious lumps and bumps. After age 40, a doctor’s breast exam should be done every year. Although there are no definitive studies showing the benefit of breast self-exams, the American Cancer Society says breast self-exams are an option for women starting in their 20s. Talk to your doctor to determine if breast self-exams are a good idea for you, and have your doctor teach you how to do them correctly.

No. 4 The Katie Couric Test

Thanks to Katie Couric, more and more women are realizing that colon cancer is not just a man's disease. When Couric underwent a colonoscopy live on national television in March 2000, colonoscopies nationwide jumped more than 20% in the following days and months. She became a spokeswoman for this cause after the death of her husband, Jay Monahan, from colon cancer at age 42.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that nearly 75,000 women will be diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer in 2007.

A colonoscopy allows a doctor to see and closely inspect the inside of the rectum and entire colon for signs of cancer, polyps, or small growths that can eventually become cancerous. The patient is first given a medication in a vein that causes sleepiness and relaxation. A colonoscope is gently eased inside the colon; it has a tiny video camera, which sends pictures to a TV monitor. Small puffs of air are introduced into the colon to keep it open and allow the doctor to see clearly. Preparation-wise, you follow a special diet the day before the exam and take a very strong laxative the day before the procedure. You may also need an enema to cleanse the colon. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in men and in women in the U.S.

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