Gynecologists Want You to Know!
Focused on Health - January 2010
By Rachel Winters
Visiting your gynecologist every year for a well-woman exam is your first line of defense against gynecologic cancers. To get the most out of your visit, you have to know what questions to ask.
“Having a comfortable relationship with your gynecologist is key to cancer prevention,” says Lois M. Ramondetta, associate professor of Gynecologic Oncology at M. D. Anderson. “It is important that women ask questions about changes to their body that could be symptoms of cancer. Liking your gynecologist also will motivate you to schedule your annual well-woman exam.”
Your gynecologist can talk to you about a variety of issues including weight gain/loss, various forms of birth control and any symptoms you may be having that are not normal.
Dr. Ramondetta shares her top questions to discuss with your doctor.
I’ve read that I don’t need a Pap test every year. Do I still need an appointment next year?
You should see your doctor every year even if you do not need a yearly Pap test. Your doctor still does other important exams and testing. These include a yearly clinical breast exam and scheduling your annual mammogram, for women 40 and over, as well as other tests for heart and bone health.
I am obese. Am I at increased risk for any gynecologic cancers?
Yes, you are two to three times more likely than a person who is at a healthy weight to get endometrial cancer. Speak with your doctor about your options.
I’ve heard the birth control pill causes cancer – is that true?
While there may be a slight increase in breast cancer risk with the use of birth control pills, the benefits of preventing unwanted pregnancies or managing menstrual irregularities outweigh these risks for most women. In addition, birth control pills may actually decrease a woman’s chances of getting ovarian and endometrial cancer by 50%.
I’ve seen information on BRCA analysis. Do I need to be tested?
BRCA 1 and/or 2 is an inherited gene that can increase your risks for breast and ovarian cancer. If you have a family history of one or both of these cancers, you may have an abnormal form of this gene. Talk to your parents, your grandparents and your other relatives! If you have a family history, talk to your doctor about genetic counseling and testing. A simple BRCA1 and BRCA2 blood test can help you and your doctor know your cancer risks.
Many young people in my family have colon cancer, and others have endometrial cancer. Is there a connection?
Yes, a hereditary condition does exist that increases your risks for both endometrial and colon cancers. Speak with your doctor about your options.
Does a Pap test find all gynecologic cancers?
No, a Pap test only screens for cervical cancer. Currently, there aren’t any effective screening tests for endometrial and ovarian cancers for women at average risk. However, if your chances of getting ovarian or endometrial cancer are high or you are having symptoms, speak with your doctor about your options.
At what age should I get a mammogram?
There has been a lot of controversy about this topic in the news lately.
M. D. Anderson recommends that women at average risk for breast cancer should begin getting annual mammograms at age 40. Women at increased risk of breast cancer should talk to their doctor about possibly starting mammograms earlier or getting additional tests.
Remember, the best way to fight cancer is to find it early and see your doctor when you have symptoms.
“Nobody cares about your health as much as you do,” Ramondetta says. “If you aren’t happy with the time your gynecologist gives you to ask and answer questions, be proactive and look for a new one.”