Physical Exam

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It’s not always easy trying to find time to work a doctor’s appointment into a hectic schedule but it’s very important to schedule and keep an annual appointment for a physical exam, especially for woman over the age of 40.

Life changes for women just after the age of 40.  Lots of things change.  It’s because of all this change that the medical establishment urges every woman to undergo a thorough physical exam to celebrate her 40th birthday.  This particular exam may be the most important one she’ll ever have, since it’s used as a “baseline” medical profile.  Later test results will be compared against this particular physical exam to determine what is changing and to what extent.

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Breast examinations are a vital part of a woman’s traditional physical exam and are most effective when the patient performs self-exams each month between annual physicals.  Another part of a physical exam that is becoming more common is the mammography, which is an x-ray of breast tissue to help locate tiny tumors before they become cancerous.

There’s a recently published article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA, as it’s also known, that suggests women with dense breasts may fare better at physical exam time each year if they will supplement their mammogram with an ultrasound image as well.

In a physical exam and in mammography, dense breast tissue can hide tumors.  Not detecting them as early as possible increases the risk of a harsh battle against cancer at a later date.

In their report, researchers also suggest women with exceptionally dense breasts supplement an annual mammography with an MRI scan, for the most thorough screening available.  MRIs are expensive and health insurance companies may not cover them for this purpose.  Still, women who have extremely dense breasts, personal or family histories of breast cancer, or suspicious mammogram readings in the past may consider the additional expense, about $1,000, well worth the price for a year’s peace of mind.