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What is Annual reproductive health screening and why you need it

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Dear Doctor,

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I have heard of the annual reproductive health screening. What does it entail, and is it something I should be doing starting next year? Anne

Dear Anne,

Thank you for this question. I guess you are reviewing your health, on top of other New Year resolutions you may be contemplating. Getting to grips with your reproductive health early in the year is a good start.

You are right, the concept of an annual reproductive health check has always been around. It is meant to be an opportunity to update all the routine health screening tests, and assess any new unusual symptoms. By screening tests, I mean screening for cervical cancer, breast cancer, sexually transmitted infections, and other individually recommended tests. If you have additional symptoms raising any suspicions, these also warrant a thorough review and institution of remedial measures.

What it entails: There is nothing like one-fits-all in an annual review. What you get screened for, and what gets recommended must be individualized to your unique characteristics. Factors that must be taken into account include your age, familial heritable diseases, environmental risks and your prevailing health, among others.

You should therefore not expect some sort of automated tick-box approach to such a review. A formal consultation must inform the direction that your annual review ends up taking.

Book it: Go ahead and book an appointment for an annual review if you so wish. Remember recommended disease screening intervals keep getting changed. For example screening for cervical cancer should be done every 3 years, unless you fall into some uncommon categories warranting more frequent screening.

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Don’t get any tests done for the sake of it, or just because you turned up for a review. Get your doctor to update you with all the latest recommendations. Some women end up wasting valuable time and money pursuing unnecessary tests that hardly translate into any health benefits.

Why you need it: Some experts have questioned the value of an annual reproductive health check. For starters, there is the assumption that disease sets in at an arbitrarily defined point in time. Why a review every January for example?

Another point is the time, effort and money spent on an annual ritual that mainly reviews well women. Hardly anything is found in the majority. Reproductive health reviews can easily be integrated into currently recommended disease screening intervals.

Any symptoms arising in between can be assessed on demand, rather than waiting for the arrival of a specific annualized date.

Some will get value with an annual review, but the majority will not. The most important approach is to look at your health as a continuum of possibilities, rather than a discrete occurrence of events defined by specific calendar dates. Walking into your doctor’s for an annual check may make you feel good, but keeping yourself healthy throughout the year is far more beneficial.

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