What is Women’s Wellness?: Women have a choice in managing their wellness, explains Dr. Martha GroutMay 01, 2012 09:25AM ● By Martha M. Grout, MD, MD(H)
Martha M. Grout, MD, MD(H)
To me, women’s wellness means: to live our lives with joy and fascination; to wake up every day with a sense of purpose; to be fascinated by the world around us; to be a sponge for new information, by whatever route it comes; to be free from worry about our bodies; and to love ourselves. If we must undergo medical procedures, it means having the freedom to choose the least invasive, least uncomfortable and least damaging alternative to our bodies and our psyches.
Using current medical screening tools for women, when we are 9 or 10 or 11, our mothers are strongly advised to have us vaccinated with the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, because the virus is thought to cause cervical cancer. As a result, some of us stop menstruating – or never start. Some develop neurologic symptoms and are unable to do sports, go to dances or participate in school activities. As we get older, we are taught to worry about cervical cancer and begin to have the dreaded annual gynecological exam know as the Pap smear.
It is possible for women to protect themselves and their families in other ways. First, we can consume healthy food, made without chemicals, artificial colorings or sweeteners. We can cook the food with love and give thanks to the plants and creatures that provide it for our use. Second, we can make sure that the dinner table and the home is a place of peace, not wrangling. Third, we can take steps to stay healthy ourselves, because if we are not healthy, those around us are likely to not be healthy.
We can also follow the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendations for cervical cancer screening, issued in March. They recommend a Pap smear only every three years for women between 21 and 60 years of age, with HPV testing at least every five years.
There is no need for any Pap smears at all for women over 65, according to USPSTF recommendations, as long as their tests have been clean in prior decades. The same is true for women under the age of 21, unless there is evidence of promiscuity or definite exposure to someone infected with HPV.
Women in the United States over the past 30 years have had three or four times as many Pap smears as have women in Holland, but the incidence of cervical cancer is substantially the same. Do our doctors inform us about the changing recommendations of the USPSTF? These longer screening intervals are also recommended by the American Cancer Society, the American Society for Culposcopy and Cervical Pathology and the American Society for Clinical Pathology.
Mammography is recommended every other year for women 50 to 74 years of age. For women between 40 and 49 years, biannual screening is recommended if the women have a known genetic mutation predisposing them to development of cancer, or if they have had prior radiation to the chest. Thermography is an alternate screening tool to mammography, with no painful compression of the breast and no potentially harmful radiation.
Insurance may not cover the cost of thermography, and physicians may be unwilling to prescribe it, having been taught that the results show too many false positives. What the physicians fail to realize is that thermography can actually pick up inflammation in the breast years before mammography can find a mass, and it might be possible to actually do something about inflammation before it becomes a disease. Women have a choice. They just need the information to make an intelligent one.
Martha M. Grout, M.D., M.D. (H), is medical director of the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine, in Scottsdale. For more information call 480-240-2600 or visit ArizonaAdvancedMedicine.com.