Short on time but big on staying healthy? Start with the three most important medical tests


Pap smear

Yep, they suck. But like the Kardashians, you can’t avoid them. National Cervical Screening Program guidelines say all women over 18 should be having a Pap smear every two years, but the latest stats show you’re not going as often as you should.

In fact, the number of young women aged 25 to 29 having regular Pap tests has fallen 10 per cent over the past 15 years, according to the Cancer Council Victoria, with a general drop in all age groups.

Kate Broun, manager of Papscreen Victoria, says we’re avoiding the speculum because we don’t make time or we feel awkward. She also says it’s important to know that having the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is not enough.

“The Gardasil vaccine is a primary measure – it prevents certain types of HPV from entering the cells,” she explains, “while Pap tests are a secondary prevention – they detect cells that may be affected.”

Do it every two years, even if you’ve had the HPV vaccine. If you've changed doctors or addresses, register with the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation for a FREE SMS reminder every two years.

“Pap tests are 90 per cent effective,” says Broun. “Have them at regular intervals so if anything is missed, there’s time for it to be picked up in two years.”




Sexual health

Rates of chlamydia have hit epidemic proportions, with more than triple the infections than 10 years ago, says the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society.

Experts believe these figures are partly due to lack of symptoms – 75 per cent show no signs – and misinformation.

“The message of STIs has been lost,” says sexual health expert Professor Anne Mitchell. “Women use condoms for contraception, so when they go on the pill, they’ll discard them.”

Chlamydia and other STIs can cause infertility or ectopic pregnancy so it’s worth being proactive.

Dr Kathy McNamee from Family Planning Victoria says an STI test “usually involves a urine test or self-taken vaginal swabs.”

Do it annually if you’re under 30 and sexually active. But “if you’ve had sex overseas or your partner might be at risk, see your GP asap,” says Dr McNamee.


Cholesterol

You should have regular cholesterol checks when you hit 40 but even if you’re younger, a cholesterol test can assess your risk of heart disease, which kills four times more women than breast cancer.

Last year around two million women had some form of the disease, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Julie Anne Mitchell, NSW director of cardiovascular health programs for the Australian Heart Foundation, says there are “no obvious symptoms for high blood pressure and cholesterol, which is why it’s important to go to your GP for regular checks.”

Be extra vigilant if you have risk factors like high waist circumference (more than 88cm), diabetes or a history of heart disease in your family.

Do it annually if your LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol measures more than 130. If it’s lower, get tested every five years.


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