Women’s Health 101: Why well visits + mammograms are important (according to a local SSM Health doc)

Mammograms + well visits are your best defenses against the unexpected. | Photo provided by SSM Health

Q: What do mammograms and well-woman visits share in common?
A: Prevention.

These important annual exams are meant to give you what you can’t take back — aka time spent enjoying life instead of treating health issues that could have been prevented or caught early. Yet, they often fall by the wayside amid swirls of to-do lists and responsibilities. 

So we spoke to SSM Health Obstetrician and Gynecologist Dawn Kalin, DO, FACOG, who helped us better understand what mammograms and well visits are — and why they’re important. Here’s what we learned:

Well-Woman Visit


What it is:

A well-woman visit is a preventive check-up with a gynecologist or primary care provider that, according to Dr. Kalin, helps women maintain a healthy lifestyle and minimize health risks. The visit includes a physical exam, an establishment of health goals + a discussion about women’s health topics most relevant to you (read: menstrual cycle, reproductive plans, contraception, bone health, breast health, health screenings, and more).

Why it’s important:

A well-woman visit is an opportunity to receive holistic, preventive care that’s tailored to you. The idea is that taking care of your health now avoids illness later. “Some might think they don’t need to go to the doctor if they are healthy and feel fine,” said Dr. Kalin. “However, that is the exact point of the well-woman visit — to keep you on the right track.” 

What to expect:

Your provider will ask questions to help them best assess your overall health. They may also recommend certain health screenings, depending on your age and health history. The physical exam includes:

  • Blood pressure check
  • Height and weight measurement
  • Evaluation of skin, heart, lungs, and thyroid
  • A breast exam to check for changes in skin texture, shape, nipple discharge, and lumps
  • A pelvic exam examining the vulva, vagina, cervis, uterus, and ovaries

Pro tip: Be ready to ask questionsand don’t be shy. Your physician is prepared to answer any question (and it’s better to ask them than the internet). Here are some common questions to consider asking.

Mammogram


What it is:

Mammograms are shown to decrease the risk of dying from breast cancer by as much as 50%. This non-invasive X-ray exam is used to detect breast abnormalities that could be an indication of breast cancer. Abnormalities such as calcifications, masses, and irregularities in breast tissue patterns frequently show up before signs or symptoms of cancer occur — meaning a mammogram is essential in catching breast cancer early (read: when it’s easier to treat).

Why it’s important:

“Mammograms are an important and lifesaving screening tool,” said Dr. Kalin, pointing to multiple studies that have shown that mammogram breast cancer screening decreases breast cancer mortality + increases life expectancy. “Basically, mammograms save lives,” she added.

What to expect:

During a mammogram, an X-ray machine compresses the breast between two plates to provide a clear picture of the breast tissue that will be reviewed by a radiologist. 3D + digital advancements in mammography allow radiologists to get a more comprehensive look at the breast.

Dr. Kalin noted that, generally, women should begin an annual mammogram around 40 years old, depending on their physician’s recommendation and/or their risk factor. When assessing for breast cancer risk, physicians consider things like:

  • Family history of breast and ovarian cancer 
  • Certain gene mutations
  • Weight
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Use of hormone replacement therapy

Should a patient be identified as higher risk, additional assessments may be used to determine the best course of action.

SSM Health offers both digital and 3D mammograms to ensure the best outcomes for patients. Schedule your mammogram here.

POLL

When is the last time you had a mammogram or well-woman visit? Let us know.*