Woman's health arguably leads the field of medicine in preventative care. No other place in healthcare has prevention been so successful.
Cervical cancer rates in women are among the highest cancer rates worldwide. Breast cancer affects millions of women each year. Teenage pregnancy rates are rebounding. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are everywhere. Each of these conditions, including screening and prevention, has been affected by routine annual healthcare.
Annual gynecologic visits provide an opportunity to help prevent or detect breast, cervical, ovarian and endometrial cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that there were 20 million people infected in the United States with human papilloma virus (HPV), the virus that causes precancerous cervical cells, cervical cancer and genital warts. Yet the United States has among the lowest rates of cervical cancer in the world. Physicians can screen for the HPV, effects of genital warts, and abnormal pap smears during an annual exam. The HPV vaccination has shown exciting promise for the prevention of genital warts and cervical cancer. Women aged 16-26 may obtain the vaccination from their gynecologists.
Breast cancer effects one in eight women in the United States. Thanks to the advancement in detection and treatment of breast cancer, many women are cured if the disease is detected in the early stages. In fact, mortality rates in the United States have declined recently. Recent advancements in genetics have allowed women with strong family histories of breast cancer to have genetic testing for BRCA, a breast cancer gene.
In 2007, the teenage pregnancy rate in the United States rose for the first time in almost 15 years. Among the leading problems in woman's health are those involving teenage pregnancies and how they can be prevented. It is also estimated that over 50% of pregnancies in the United states are unintended. Teenage and unintended pregnancies can be avoided with proper guidance and discussion at an annual gynecologic visit.
Young women are at greatest risk for STDs. STDs not only affect women symptomatically, but many diseases can lead to lifelong undesirable effects if patients are asymptomatic and untreated. Psychological distress often occurs when women with recurrent genital herpes or warts disclose their conditions to their partners. Pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility – two effects of Chlamydia infection – are future dangers to women with STDs who are not screened and treated early. Gynecologists are the focal point for education, prevention and treatment of STDs. An annual exam visit provides the opportunity for discussion and treatment of STDs.
Preventative care and healthcare screening are paramount to optimal health for women. Physicians are driven by the desire to help maintain health and treat conditions. As an obstetrician and gynecologist, the realization comes early in our education that we may not be the most popular of specialties; many women would rather endure much pain and concern than visit an obstetrician and gynecologist for an annual visit. Hopefully, the knowledge presented in this article will help women understand the importance of prevention and preventative healthcare and help empower women to lead the healthiest lives possible.