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Women: Health tips for your 20s

Focused on Health - August 2013

by Adelina Espat

20s women healthLife changes with every decade. And so does your body. 

Just as you set personal milestones, you also should set health goals for every stage of life. Use these tips to help you look and feel your best in your 20s.

Avoid exposure to HPV. The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is most common among young women in their late teens and early 20s. High-risk strains of HPV are present in more than 99% of cervical cancer cases.

Your best bet to reduce the risk of HPV infection is to:

  • Limit your number of sexual partners
  • Consistently practice protected sex  
  • Get the HPV vaccine if you’re younger than age 26

Say ‘no’ to tanning salons. Tanning bed use significantly increases your odds of getting melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer). Using tanning beds regularly when you’re under 30 increases your risk of skin cancer by 75%.  

Other ways to limit sun exposure is to:

  • Avoid direct exposure to the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Routinely use sunscreen with SPF 30 when you’re outdoors

Steer clear of the fast (food) life.  You may be eating fast food because it’s cheap and easy. And at this age, you may even have the metabolism to burn unwanted calories. But, you’re not powering up with the nutrients you need to keep your body and mind healthy today, and later in life.

The better choice? Learn to whip up a few simple, healthy meals. And, use our cancer fighting foods list to fill your grocery cart with healthier options. We’ve also got a quick guide that’ll teach you how to decode food labels.

Pop in for a pap: Being an adult means taking control of your health.  After your 21st birthday, schedule a Pap test every three years.

You may find Pap tests awkward and uncomfortable. But, this exam is worth the brief discomfort. That’s because the Pap test can find and remove abnormal cells before they turn into cervical cancer.

READ ALSO: 5 Pap test facts women should know

20s healthSnuff out the cigarette. More women die from lung cancer each year than breast cancer. The cause: smoking.  Nearly 20% of women age 25 to 44 smoke.

Smoking raises your risk for heart disease and stroke, and affects your reproductive health. It also causes problems during pregnancy that can hurt both mother and baby – miscarriages, stillbirths and early delivery.

If you quit while you’re pregnant, don’t pick up the habit after the baby is born. Nicotine can be passed through breast milk and secondhand smoke can affect your child’s health.

Want to quit? You are not alone – 70% of women who smoke say they want to quit. Get help and support. If you’re still having trouble, cut back as much as possible and make your home smoke-free.

READ ALSO: Helping someone avoid tobacco: What works

Get more health tips for all ages

“Practicing these healthy behaviors is important for all women, regardless of age,” says Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center . “So take note of all of these tips — even the ones directed toward women older or younger than you.”

And talk to your doctor about cancer screening exams, like the Pap test and clinical breast exam. Exams also are available for those at increased risk for ovarian, endometrial, lung and skin cancer.

Your doctor can help you learn about your personal risk for cancer, and tell you what exams you should get and how often.

Women's health tips for your 30s

Women's health tips for your 40s

Women's health tips for your 50s and older

Women’s screening exam by age checklist

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center