10 Must-Have Tests For Black Women

Female patient sitting on gurney in hospital gown

You’re eating healthier? Great! You’re exercising more? Outstanding? In addition, you’re doing other things to stay healthy, such as sleeping more and stressing less? You GO!

But…what about your visits to the doctor? If keeping up with medical tests isn’t on your list of healthy behaviors, you’re falling into the mistake that many fit women make: thinking that a healthy lifestyle makes it unnecessary to get routine exams.

To truly be your healthiest, here are some facts you need to know:

• In 2006, African American women were 10% less likely to have been diagnosed with breast cancer, however, they were almost 40% more likely to die from breast cancer, as compared to non-Hispanic white women.
• African-American women are 35 percent more likely to die of heart disease than Caucasian women, and surveys show they are far less aware of their risk factors.
• Black women develop hypertension earlier in life and have higher average blood pressure than white women, according to HHS.
• Nearly half of black women have a total cholesterol number that is way too high.
• Two thirds of blindness and visual impairment cases occur in women
• According to the CDC, in 2010, the rate of chlamydia among black women was over seven times the rate among white women.
• In 2010, 69% of all reported cases of gonorrhea occurred among blacks. The rate of gonorrhea among blacks in 2010 was 432.5 cases per 100,000 population, which was 18.7 times the rate among whites.
• The overall 2010 syphilis rate for blacks was eight times the rate for whites. In 2010, the rate of syphilis among black men was 7.1 times the rate among white men; the rate among black women was 21 times the rate among white women.

Here are the 10 primary medical exams that ALL women need (including what age you should have them, what kind of doctor gives them, and why you need them)…

Pap Smear

Who to see: Gynecologist

Why: Pap smears aid in early detection of cervical cancer. African-American women’s mortality rate from it is 50% higher than all other groups of women according to the American Cancer Society. Collecting cells from the cervix during a pelvic exam is the best way to tell if your cervix is healthy — cell changes can lead to cervical cancer.

How often: Starting at age 21, most women need to be screened every other year or less, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Once you turn 30 — and you’ve had three consecutive negative tests and no abnormal history — you can get it done once every three years.


Clinical Breast Exam

Who to see: Gynecologist or general practitioner (GP)

Why: While white women are diagnosed with breast cancer more often, Black women are more likely to die from it, especially since it only tends to be discovered at more advanced stages. A doctor can feel or see abnormalities in breast tissue, skin and nipples that can indicate cancer.

How often: At least once every three years in your twenties and thirties. But if you want to be checked more frequently, simply ask. After age 35, go yearly.


Skin Cancer Screening

Who to see: Dermatologist

Why: Only about 31 percent of African-American adults engage in at least one form of sun protection behavior such as wearing a hat, while 63 percent never use sunscreen, according to a new study. The problem? Melanoma is more than 10 times higher in whites compared to blacks, but over a five-year span, blacks have a 78 percent lower survival rate compared to 92 percent of whites, according to study background material. A doctor can ID weirdly shaped moles or other growths that might be cancerous or precancerous.

How often: Get new or changed growths assessed ASAP. If you’re a current or recovering tanning-bed or sun lover, are fair or dotted with moles or freckles or have a family history of skin cancer, see the derm twice a year. If not, go annually.

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