Why Women Skipping or Delaying Health Checkups Is a Cause for Concern



CNN

An estimated 72 million women in the United States have skipped or postponed a recommended health checkup, according to a new study. The poll, conducted by Gallup for medical technology company Hologic, found that 90 percent of women recognize the importance of regular health checkups, but more than 40 percent have skipped or postponed a test.

Women are struggling to prioritize their own health, the survey found, with more than 60% of women responding that it was difficult to make their own health a priority. The numbers are particularly stark among younger women; 74% of Gen Z women and 70% of millennials said it was difficult to prioritize their health, compared to 52% of baby boomers and 39% of the Silent Generation.

Struck by these numbers, I wanted to speak with CNN wellness expert Dr. Leana Wen to learn more about why they’re cause for concern. What preventive screenings should younger women be getting? And what steps can women take to prioritize their health and wellness? Wen is an emergency medicine physician and adjunct associate professor at George Washington University. She previously served as Baltimore’s health commissioner.

CNN: What parts of the poll stand out to you the most?

Doctor Leana Wen: I was disheartened, but not surprised, to see that it was so common for women, especially young women, to skip health checkups. According to the results, most women in the survey cited factors such as caring for other family members first, struggling with work and other pressing matters.

This resonates with my experience as a clinician and public health official. Unfortunately, too many women do not focus on their health until they are diagnosed with a chronic disease. Our society does not emphasize prevention enough, and there are many barriers to people getting preventive care.

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A new study has found that young women often struggle to prioritise their own health, citing caring for others and their work as factors that play a role.

CNN: Why are regular health checkups so important for women, even young women?

Woman: This study focused on health screenings for cancer, so let’s start there. One in five women in the world will develop cancer in their lifetime. Early treatment is essential to improve survival, and that depends on early diagnosis. That’s why screenings are so important. Cancer screenings are done before people develop symptoms.

There is a disturbing global trend of increasing early-onset cancers, defined as cancers diagnosed in people under the age of 50. Between 1990 and 2019, early-onset cancers increased by 79%. In the U.S., the overall number of cancers in people over the age of 50 decreased between 1995 and 2020, but the incidence of cancer in people under the age of 50 increased.

All of this makes the findings of the study on young women neglecting their health checks even more worrying.

According to the study, 41% of American women do not get screened or get screened too late for breast cancer, 35% for cervical cancer and 33% for colorectal cancer.

CNN: What cancer screenings are recommended for younger women?

Woman: The following are the recommendations from the US Preventive Services Task Force.

For breast cancer, the USPSTF recommends that women get screened every other year, starting at age 40 through age 74. This is a recent change. Previously, the recommendation was to start between the ages of 40 and 50.

For cervical cancer, the task force recommends that women ages 21 to 29 get screened every three years with a Pap test, which looks at cells in the cervix. For women ages 30 to 65, the recommendation is to get screened every three years with the Pap test, or every five years with a test for high-risk human papillomavirus (a virus that can cause cervical cancer) or the virus test in combination with the Pap test.

For colorectal cancer, the USPSTF recommends that both women and men begin screening at age 45. This is also a change in response to the increase in colorectal cancer among younger individuals; until a few years ago, the recommendation was that colorectal cancer screening begin at age 50.

All of the above recommendations apply to women at average risk of developing these cancers. Those at higher risk due to family history, personal cancer history, or other risk factors should discuss with their doctor whether they should begin screening earlier and more often.

Additional tests may also be needed. For example, women with a first-degree relative with breast cancer may be advised to have an MRI scan in addition to a mammogram. Genetic testing may also be recommended.

CNN: What else should women know about regular screenings?

Woman: Ideally, every woman has a primary care provider that she visits every year. These appointments should keep track of what screenings have been done and when the next set of screenings is due.

First, women need to know if they have any personal medical conditions that put them at higher risk than other people. Everyone should try to find out their family history of common ailments such as cancer and heart disease. Discuss lifestyle factors that can influence risk factors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and physical activity.

Second, talk about screening tests. What is being recommended now and why? We’ve been talking about cancer screenings today, but there are also screenings for other chronic diseases that should be done.

For example, you should have your blood pressure checked at annual visits to screen for hypertension. The USPSTF also recommends screening for diabetes in adults ages 35 to 70 who have a body mass index that puts them in the overweight or obese category, and for high cholesterol in women ages 45 and older who are at increased risk for heart disease.

Third, women need to discuss issues related to their reproductive health. If they want to get pregnant, they need to optimize their health in preparation for pregnancy. If they don’t, they need to discuss contraceptive options. We haven’t talked about screening for sexually transmitted infections, but this is also a part of routine health screening that should be discussed during the annual checkup.

Last but not least, it’s important to discuss mental health issues. Mental health is a critical determinant of overall health. Women should be sure to discuss concerns like depression, anxiety, and stress with their health care providers. There are many treatment options — no one should suffer in silence.

CNN: How can women keep track of what screenings they’re getting and what they need in the future?

The problem is that many women don’t have a regular provider. They may also neglect to see that person because of the issues that were raised in the survey — perhaps these women are busy with other life circumstances and only go to a provider when something is wrong.

The other issue that emerged in the survey is that providers may not bring up screenings. Women are more likely to get screened if they and their provider discuss the importance of screenings, the survey found. Yet sometimes these conversations don’t happen for a variety of reasons.

We need a better health system that guarantees access and continuity of care for all. In addition, doctors must be given sufficient time to focus on important issues, such as prevention, during the annual visit.

In the meantime, I encourage women to keep track of all the screenings they’ve had and have an idea of ​​when the next one is due. Bring that list with you to your annual checkup and ask your doctor to make sure you’re up to date.

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