Women are notorious for putting themselves last. We get so wrapped up in making sure that everyone around us is properly cared for that we often neglect our own health. Sometimes, in our busy lives we ignore warning signs that something is not right. Other times, there are no symptoms but regular screenings can help address issues as they arise. When it comes to your health, are you paying attention? Here are some suggestions for staying ahead of the game.

Get Your Pap Smear

The Centers for Disease Control regularly update the guidelines for Pap smears but, currently, it is recommended that women aged 21 years and older should begin screening. The Pap test is one of the most effective ways of detecting cervical cancer. It is important to note, however, that it does not screen for ovarian, uterine, vaginal or vulvar cancers so it’s essential that women pay attention to any changes and address them with their healthcare provider. Women 30 years and older are also encouraged to be tested for HPV along with their Pap test since they can be performed at the same time. If the tests are normal, you may wait three years before getting tested again.

Do Breast Exams

It takes a little bit of commitment, at first, but it’s best to get into the habit of performing regular breast exams. Get to know how your breasts feel normally so that you easily notice any changes. The American Cancer Society has the most up-to-date recommendations for how to perform a self exam. Of course, it’s also important to talk to your physician and decide on a schedule for formal examinations as well as mammograms.

Address Unusual Symptoms

You know your body better than anyone else and, regardless of what anyone says, if you feel that you are experiencing something unusual, seek medical attention. If you feel as though your concerns are being dismissed, get a second opinion. It may turn out to be nothing but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Never feel embarrassed by your concerns – it’s your body, your life and you have every right to ask questions.

Understand Contraception Options

The Centers for Disease Control has some excellent resources on the effectiveness of different contraceptive methods and a description of the various options. For those who wish to have children in the future, reversible methods, such as the birth control pill, IUD and condoms, are decent options with their own set of pros and cons. Some women are comfortable learning more about their cycle in order to follow a natural method of family planning. If you are certain that you no longer want to have children, permanent methods, such as tubal ligation and vasectomy, may be right for you.

Leading Causes of Death

It may seem morbid but do you know what the leading causes of death are among women? The current data shows that, on average, most women die from heart disease (23.5%), cancer (22.1%) and stroke (6.2%). Does that surprise you? This information is important because we can work on improving our own odds of preventing certain diseases. Do some research and speak to your medical professional about how you can reduce your risk.

There’s a tendency of ignoring things in hopes that they either improve or go away but this is one area that warrants and deserves your attention. Never neglect your own health – you could save your own life!