We know how it is: You work hard at a job all day, then come home and have to get dinner on the table. You make sure the kids do their homework, try to have a complete conversation with the man in your life, take care of the house, and hopefully work in a little you-time. Day after day of this, and before you know it, you realize you haven’t been to the doctor in forever. But that’s okay; after all, you feel fine (aside from being exhausted). What could be wrong?
That’s just it—you don’t know. Without getting a physical, along with specific tests, you could be fine one day and bracing yourself for bad news the next. And as Latinas, we’re at higher risk for certain serious conditions and diseases than our peers.
We’ve culled data from hospital surveys and government research projects and come up with a list of the 5 most important health tests you should take this year, especially if you didn’t last year (or the year before). If you don’t have health insurance, call your local hospital for clinics and health fairs that have free or low-cost tests. And don’t wait for your busy primary care physician to suggest these; ask for them. Make your health the priority it should be, for your family—and for you.
1. Pap Smear. This fast, simple, often painless test is one of the most important ones you can get. Pap smears can reveal the presence of cervical cancer, one of the most common forms of cancer among women—especially Latinas. Cervical cancer has become one of the deadliest cancers to women worldwide, largely because women simply don’t go for testing, according to a study done by City of Hope’s Center of Community Alliance for Research and Education. Cervical cancer can be easily prevented with early detection, and women should start having regular Pap tests every two years after the age of 21.
2. HIV Test. In 2009, Latinos made up 20 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S.; 21 percent of that number was Latinas, whose rate of HIV infection is four times as high as Caucasian women. Why? Factors can include unprotected sex and undisclosed or unknown sexually transmitted diseases that increase HIV risk factors. People put off testing because they’re fearful of the results, but early detection can preserve the health of the person being tested—and the health of her children, if she is or becomes pregnant. Especially if you’ve never done it before, get tested this year. Tests can be free; check out National HIV and STD Testing Resources for more information.
3. Mammogram. The California Breast Cancer Research Program found that Latinas were less likely to get or even ask for this standard breast-cancer test than non-Latinas. There is some debate as to what age is best to start getting mammograms; discuss it with your doctor, especially if there is a history of breast cancer (or any cancer) in your family. If you’re uninsured, go to the
4. Diabetes. A routine blood test is all that’s needed to detect “pre-diabetes,” a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal. People with pre-diabetes are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes within 10 years, putting them at risk for strokes and heart attacks, but early detection can keep you from becoming a statistic. For more information, visit the National Diabetes Education Program.
5. Heart Disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, heart disease is the number one killer of Latinas in this country—yes, surpassing even cancer. Factors that contribute to the risk of developing heart disease, such as overweight, obesity, and diabetes, are all on the rise in the Hispanic community. While there is no single test for heart disease, your blood pressure, blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and body mass index help assess risk. For a list of questions to take with you to your doctor, go to The Heart Truth for Latinas.
Like we said, we know how it is; in addition to being busy, some of you may be afraid of what you might hear. But when you know what you’re dealing with, and have help from a professional, you may find yourself looking forward to your test results next year.