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4 Health Issues That Women Deal With (and Men Don't)

women's health

We all have worries. Sometimes they’re about work, money, or getting the kids to school on time. But when it comes to health, women have unique issues and needs. And typically, they aren’t shared by men.

Over the course of a woman’s life, her needs change for a number of reasons. She faces choices, like motherhood, and realities, like menstruation. Then come the effects of aging and menopause. There are other things more out of her control, like mental health or sexual and domestic violence.

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Being aware of these health-related shifts and how they can affect a woman’s life is one thing. Addressing them when arise is another. It can be tricky, especially for women with limited healthcare access or financial restraints.

Read on to learn more about health issues unique to women and how to respond to them.

1. Cervical cancer

Every year, about women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer. A Pap test, or Pap smear, is a screening test for cervical cancer. This test is a common part of a gynecological exam.

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Testing saves lives
Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of death for women in the United States. The availability of Pap tests has markedly cut the number of deaths due to early detection or treatment of precancerous lesions before they become cancerous. Regular pap tests cut cervical cancer incidence by up to .

The test involves gently scraping cells from the cervix and testing them for abnormalities. According to the , regular Pap screenings drastically reduce cervical cancer incidence and mortality, maybe by as much as 80 percent. suggests Pap tests may be especially important in catching cancer or other conditions in women who are older than 30.

Cervical cancer is caused by human papilloma virus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted. In addition to Pap tests, you can request an HPV test. This test checks for the high-risk types of HPV that most commonly lead to cervical cancer. The test can be done at the same time as a Pap test.

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What can you do about it?

Women who are older than 21 should get regular Pap tests, and women older than 30 should get combination HPV and Pap tests, according to the .

2. Breast health

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, aside from skin cancers. It affects approximately women in the United States, and about men. In 2017 alone, this translates to a whopping estimated new cases of invasive breast cancer and approximately 40,610 deaths.

Early detection saves lives
The lowest survival rates of breast cancer are in lower-income countries. The says that’s because these countries lack early detection programs.

Breast exams, including clinical breast exams and mammograms, are important. They can help you keep track of changes in your body and detect breast cancer early. They can help girls and women become familiar with what’s “normal” for their breasts. Detecting cancer early may help reduce the progression of the disease and the severity and invasiveness of treatment.

What can you do?

If you are older than 40, you should be getting regular mammograms, according to the . But it’s important for women of all ages to be aware of how their breasts feel and look. Talk to your doctor about your particular cancer risk and prevention recommendations.

3. Certain STDs

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) aren’t unique to women, but several affect women more. They can also have serious consequences specific to women. Part of the challenge for women is that many STDs don’t show symptoms. Other STDs do have symptoms, but they’re easily confused with conditions like heavy menstrual bleeding or bleeding between periods. For example, these are both symptoms of chlamydia and gonorrhea.

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STDs: Get the facts
• People in the United States contract about STDs every year.
• Undiagnosed STDs cause infertility in more than each year.

It takes a trip to the doctor or clinic to get an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. If left untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This can cause chronic pelvic pain, an ectopic pregnancy, or even infertility.

What can you do about it?

Need to ask questions privately or anonymously? Agencies like offer online chat services. You can even order a mail-in STD test to take at home for chlamydia and gonorrhea.

However, you should always feel comfortable talking to your healthcare provider about STDs. Sexually active women who are younger than 25 or who have multiple sex partners should request annual chlamydia and gonorrhea tests. If you’re pregnant, ask your doctor about an STD test early in your pregnancy. It should include HIV and hepatitis B tests.

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4. Birth control methods

Protection and birth control aren’t just women’s responsibilities, but most available options are intended for them. According to the , almost 87 percent of women in the United States between the ages of 15 and 44 are sexually active. Of them, 99 percent have used contraception at least once. But while almost all of them have had their male partners use a condom, just 15 percent of sexually active women rely on condoms alone. For many, contraception methods like hormone pills and IUDs are the most effective ways to manage when, if, and how they’d like to have children.

Protecting themselves
• Only of sexually active women rely on male condoms alone.
• Over use a hormonal pill and 11 percent use long-acting solutions like IUDs.

What can you do?

With so many options available, it can be difficult to find the birth control that meets your needs. Ultimately, the best birth control method is the one that works for you and your lifestyle. Be sure to discuss your options with your doctor or gynecologist. 

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Which type of birth control is right for you? »

Because many birth control methods rely on hormones to prevent pregnancy, birth control may affect your period. Planned Parenthood has an app for that: , which lets you track your period and keep on top of your birth control.

Takeaway

Figuring out how to monitor and maintain your health — including your sexual and mental health — can be overwhelming, but there are professionals and services there to help you. Reach out to your doctor and find out what services and programs are available in your area to help you be your healthiest self. 

Article resources
  • Breast cancer: Prevention and control. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Cervical cancer statistics. (2016, June 20). Retrieved from
  • Contraceptive use. (2016, July 15). Retrieved from
  • Daniels, K., Daugherty, J., & Jones, J. (2014). Current contraceptive status among women aged 15–44: United States, 2011–2013. NCHS Data Brief, 173. Retrieved from
  • Daniels, K., Daugherty, J., Jones, J., & Mosher, W. (2015). Current contraceptive use and variation by selected characteristics among women aged 15–44: United States, 2011–2013. National Health Statistics Reports, 86. Retrieved from
  • Daniels, K., Mosher, W. D., & Jones, J. (2013). Contraceptive methods women have ever used: United States, 1982–2010. National Health Statistics Reports, 62. Retrieved from
  • Jones, J. Mosher, W., & Daniels, K. (2012). Current contraceptive use in the United States, 2006–2010, and changes in patterns of use since 1995. National Health Statistics Reports, 60. Retrieved from  
  • Reported STDs in the United States: 2015 national data for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. (2016, October).  Retrieved from
  • Safaeian, M., & Solomon, D. (2009, October 15). Cervical cancer prevention – cervical screening: Science in evolution. Obstetrics & Gynecology Clinics of North America, 34(4), 739-IX. Retrieved from
  • Sexually transmitted disease surveillance 2015. (2016). Retrieved from
  • 10 ways STDs impact women differently from men. (2011, April). Retrieved from
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