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Lifesaving Health Tests for Women

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In Your 50s:

50 is the new 40, and, with the exception of hitting menopause (and for some, that is a big exception), you may not feel much different health-wise this decade than in the previous one. Continue your healthy habits and regular medical appointments, and talk to your doctor for any help in dealing with menopause symptoms.

 

Colonoscopy

Why you need it: Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in women, according the NIH; almost 27,000 women died from the disease in 2007. It is more common in people older than 50, and risk increases with age. If caught early, it is often curable -- yet, many women shy away from getting screened.

Women tend to avoid colonoscopies because of the preparation (fasting and drinking large amounts of a fluid to cleanse the bowels) and the procedure itself. A colonoscopy can detect colon cancer and colonic polyps, which may be benign but could become cancerous as they grow. 

What the test is like: You will be sedated enough to make you more comfortable, and while you will still be awake, you probably won’t remember anything from the procedure afterwards. As you lie on your left side, the doctor will insert a narrow, flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end (called a colonoscope) up your rectum and gently move it up your lower disgestive tract. The doctor will exam the lining of your bowels thru the camera, and may take tissue samples or remove polyps (growths) for examination.

When to start: A colonoscopy is recommended for healthy women every 10 years, starting at age 50. A woman with a family history of colon cancer should get her first colonoscopy 10 years earlier than when that relative was diagnosed.

Here's what else you need to know about colonoscopies.

 

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