Your diary is packed and you feel great, so no harm in
putting off that check-up, right? Wrong. These tests all take 15 minutes (or
less), but they could change your life.
Although Belinda had a family history of diabetes, she’d
never been screened for it. Then, in high school, she started feeling thirsty
and tired. She ignored the signs – even when her family noticed how much time
she was spending in bed. When she did find her way to a doctor, the diagnosis
was type-1 diabetes.
“I wish I’d been diagnosed earlier – the longer I was left
untreated, the harder it hit my body,” says Belinda. “There were things I
couldn’t enjoy because I was feeling too ill.” Being diagnosed has allowed
Belinda to manage her condition so she can once again enjoy an active
lifestyle. And she diligently visits her GP every six months.
“The earlier we identify potential health problems, the
better the outcome will be,” says Cape Town-based GP Dr Simone Shelly. These
screenings are a good place to start.
Skin and mole check
According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA),
skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in SA, with about 20 000 cases
and 700 deaths reported annually. A mole screening detects melanoma, the
deadliest form of skin cancer – the doc will be looking for early signs of
change in your moles.
How often: Dermatologist Dr Kesiree Naidoo from Vincent
Pallotti Hospital suggests going at least once a year from your twenties,
depending on skin type and family history. If you’re high risk (fair-skinned
with many moles), you may need to start mole screening much earlier. If you
have a mole that bothers you at any age, have it assessed by a dermatologist.
What to expect: You’ll need to strip down to your underwear
and have your entire body examined, explains Naidoo. The dermatologist might
use a dermatoscope or magnifying lamp. Patients with multiple moles may benefit
from mole mapping: this involves recording individual moles for comparison.
Your doc will cut out suspicious looking moles and send them to a lab to be
Time: Ten to 20 minutes; once a year.
Cost: Around R500 Medical aid cover: Usually, depending on
Pain factor: 0/10
“A mammogram is the most affordable and reliable imaging
tool we currently have to detect breast cancer early, up to two years before a
lump is felt,” explains breast radiologist Dr Sumi Padayachee. Mammograms pick
up abnormal calcium deposits or masses in breast tissue; if these are found,
you may need to go for an ultrasound and/or biopsy.
How often: From the age of 40, you should be having a
mammogram annually. If there are any concerns or a family history, you can
start earlier. “If your mom had or has breast cancer, it’s advisable to have a
mammogram 10 years before the age she was diagnosed,” says Padayachee.
What to expect: You’ll need to go to a radiologist, where
your breasts will be compressed between two plates for a few seconds while
images are taken. “For comfort, it’s best to have a mammogram seven to 10 days
after the onset of your last period,” says Padayachee. “What most women don’t
realise is that a number of medical aids pay for a yearly mammogram out of what’s
called a ‘screening benefit’. In effect, the mammogram is free and not paid for
out of your medical savings account,” she adds.
Time: Ten to 15 minutes; every one to two years (age
Cost: Around R1 000
Medical aid cover: Yes
Pain factor: 3/10 (smaller breasts may hurt more)
About one in four South Africans between the ages of 15 and
64 suffers from high blood pressure, which, if uncontrolled, can lead to heart
attack, stroke or damaged eyesight (glaucoma and blindness). In fact, it’s one
of the leading causes of heart attacks and strokes, according to the Heart and
Stroke Foundation SA.
The sweet spot is around 120/80 – much higher or lower than
that and you may need further tests or medication.
How often: You should start with annual screenings from the
age of 40, says Shelly – although women on the Pill should also be screened
regularly since the Pill can affect BP. First thing in the morning is the best
time (you know, before the kids/traffic/ your boss start getting you worked
What to expect: A Baumanometer cuff (inflatable strap) is
wrapped around your upper arm and a stethoscope placed at your inner elbow. The
cuff is inflated and a reading is taken as it deflates. Most pharmacies have a
nurse who can quickly check your BP and some gyms have machines where you can
do your own screening.
Time: One minute; once a year
Cost: Around R300 for a GP consultation (cheaper or free at
clinics and pharmacies)
Medical aid cover: Yes, depending on your plan and if part
of GP consultation
Pain factor: 1/10 (brief discomfort as your arm is squeezed)
According to Diabetes South Africa, if left untreated, the
high levels of blood glucose associated with diabetes can slowly damage both
fine nerves and blood vessels, resulting in complications like heart disease,
blindness, amputation and kidney disease. A blood glucose level between 3.5 and
5.5mmol/l before a meal is considered normal.
How often: Start going for annual screenings from the age of
35 (20 if you have a family history). Don’t skip the test if you’re overweight
(especially if you carry most of your weight around your middle), have high
cholesterol or blood pressure, or are of Indian descent – these are all
What to expect: A simple finger-prick test measures blood
sugar levels following an eight-hour fast – typically blood glucose levels are
measured in the morning before breakfast. It’s used to help identify diabetes,
as well as to monitor blood sugar control in patients already diagnosed with
Four minutes; once a year.
Cost: Around R25 for a finger-prick test – consultation rate
Medical aid cover: Depending on the plan and if part of GP
Pain factor: 2/10 (a prick to the side of the finger helps
ease the pain).
Shame factor: 0/10
These tests may not be high on your hit list, but recent
research recommends them for women ages 18 to 50.
Thyroid gland screening: A blood test measures your levels
of thyroid stimulating hormone.
Do it: Every five years or at your doctor’s discretion if
you suddenly suffer from fatigue, weight gain (or loss) and depression.
Cholesterol screening: A simple blood test reveals the
amount of cholesterol (a fat produced by the liver) in your blood.
Do it: Every five years or at your doctor’s discretion if
you have a family history of high cholesterol or other risk factors. High levels
of cholesterol can eventually form plaque in the heart, which can lead to a
heart attack or stroke.
STI test: A cervical swab similar to a Pap smear to check
for gonorrhoea and chlamydia; blood tests screen for HIV, syphilis and
Do it: Annually, or every time you have a new sexual
partner. Eighty to 90 percent of the world’s STIs occur in developing countries
such as SA.
Colonoscopy: A tiny camera is inserted through the rectum so
the doc can examine your colon. Sounds unpleasant, but the prep is more
uncomfortable than the procedure – you’ll need to fast and have an enema.
Do it: Every year from age 50. Many people mistakenly think
of colon cancer as a man’s disease, but it’s equally common in women. If caught
early, it usually responds well to treatment.This story originally
appeared on womenshealthsa.co.za
- visit the site to read the whole story here.