South Africa: Check your medical ‘to-do’ list this Women’s Month

Andrew Edwards, Executive Principal Officer for Liberty Medical Scheme advises that it is important for you to check your medical scheme’s preventative benefits. “The early detection of serious medical conditions helps our members stay healthy, we cover a variety of screening and diagnostic tests as well as vaccinations.”

Edwards suggests that women, based on their age, should include these regular screenings and check-ups on their medical to-do lists:

Mammogram for breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting South African women – 1 in 35 women in the country will be diagnosed with it, according to the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa). You should be doing monthly breast self-examinations and starting when you’re age 20, your doctor should manually examine your breasts at your regular check up.

From age 40, if you are symptom-free, have a mammogram (a special X-ray to detect lumps in the breasts) every two years, says Edwards. But if you have a family history of breast cancer, start screening earlier. “Some women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their early twenties,” Edwards adds. “Regular screening can help detect it earlier, increasing the chances of successful treatment.”

Bone density scan for osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a crippling weakness of the bones, which can lead to bones becoming more susceptible to fractures – especially of the spine, hips and wrists. Women can lose up to 30 percent of their bone mass in the five to seven years following menopause and in South Africa, 1 in 3 women will develop osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

Although there are usually no visible symptoms until a bone fractures, Liberty Medical Scheme recommends a bone density test once every three years from the age of 50.  Prevention and treatment includes doing regular exercise, taking calcium and vitamin D, as well as other osteoporosis medications, if needed.

Pap smear for cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is a preventable disease which is curable if detected and treated in its early stages. According to the South African National Cancer Registry approximately 1 in 41 women in South Africa will, within their lifetime, develop cervical cancer.

Liberty Medical Scheme makes provision for the funding of an annual Pap smear from 18 years of age.   A Pap smear is a procedure where a tiny sample of cervical tissue is taken to detect cancerous cells or cells that might become cancerous in the future. Sexually active women should consider including a routine Pap smear as part of their regular medical check-up.

Tests for colorectal cancer

Look out for symptoms such as rectal bleeding, a change in bowel habits such as constipation or diarrhoea and abdominal pain, which could be a sign of colorectal cancer. Women in South Africa have a 1 in 150 chance of developing the disease and Liberty Medical Scheme recommends going for regular screening tests such as a colonoscopy from the age of 50 every 10 years. If there is a history of colorectal cancer or polyps in your family, you are at higher risk and may need to be tested earlier. A faecal occult blood test, which detects small quantities of blood in a sample of stool, is another important way of preventative screening.

Cholesterol and blood pressure tests for heart disease

A simple blood test can measure your cholesterol and assess your risk of heart disease. International guidelines recommend routine screening in women aged 50 years or older and/or in postmenopausal women.   If your LDL or “bad” cholesterol measures more than 3 mmol/l, get tested annually. Liberty Medical Scheme’s Preventative Care benefits allow for an annual cholesterol screening from the age of 20 years. High blood pressure can also be an early indicator of heart disease and kidney failure. If you’re 45 or older, overweight, diabetic or if you are a smoker, you’re also at increased risk. If your blood pressure is higher than 130/90 mmHg, you may be developing hypertension, so take action as soon as possible.