We want to improve the health of women in the Canberra Region by employing exprienced female health professionals, providing relevant, in-demand services and sharing positive, helpful information on women’s health.

This page looks at some of the health themes which our team discuss regularly with their female patients.  Health Direct is a brilliant resource which we recommend you check out for additional info.

Know the signs of cancer and the screening programs available

Thousands of women die each year because of cancers that could have been prevented or managed with an earlier diagnosis.  There are more than 70 types of cancer, including some which pose a unique threat to women. You can learn more about skin and other cancers which affect both men and women on our Preventative Health page.

Breast Cancer

Is caused by the abnormal growth of cells lining the breast lobules (the glands which produce milk) or breast ducts (passages from the lobule to the nipple).   In the range of 20,000 Australian women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, along with a very small number of men.

Every woman’s situation is different, though some common risk factors have been identified.

  • Age is a big factor, with 3 out of 4 cases occurring in women over 50.
  • Tall women have been shown to be slightly more at risk.
  • A family history, particularly amongst close relatives.

“I felt a lump…” is a familiar phrase from those with a recent diagnosis and self-examination is an invaluable part of prevention.  Check regularly for any irregularities in the way your breasts feel, starting with lumps but also checking for inflammation, pain, nipple discharge that isn’t breast milk and any other changes in the size or shape of your breasts.

The Breast Cancer Screening involves a low-dose x-ray, commonly called a mammography or mammogram.  Women over 40 can access a free screening every two years.  This screening hasn’t proved as effective for younger women, so please speak with your GP if you’re under 40 and notice a change in your breasts.

Breast Cancer Network Australia has a wealth of information, as does the Cancer Council and Cancer Australia.  Check out BreastScreen ACT for more about free screenings for women over 40.

 

Cervical Cancer

Is the growth of abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix.  There are up to 1000 new cases in Australia every year, and if not detected early Cervical Cancer can be fatal.

The majority of cases are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV),  a common sexually transmitted infection which usually doesn’t have any symptoms – though can on occasions cause cancers and other serious illnesses.  Cervical Cancer symptoms include vaginal bleeding during intercourse, outside of period or after menopause, heavier menstrual bleeding than normal, and pain during intercourse.

Thankfully screening is really effective at early detection and has signified reduced the rate of the disease in recent decades. The Cervical Screening Test has now replaced the Pap test and is both less frequent and more effective.  All women aged 25 and over should have the screening done every 5 years, or 2 years after your last Pap test.

The Australia Cervical Cancer Foundation and Cancer Council both provide lots of helpful information if you’d like to read further.

 

Find out more about our Cancer Screening services on our Health Checks page.

Let’s talk sexual health

When do I need to get checked for Sexually Transmitted Infection?

There are over 20 different STIs that can be passed with sexual activity.  Many are asymptomatic, making regular checks vital.

To keep it simple – if you’re sexually active, you should get an STI check every 6 months.  This applies even if you’re with a long-term partner, though it’s also a good idea to get an STI check when you start seeing someone new.  If you or your partner notice any symptoms then please see your doctor straight away, you can learn more about the most common STIs and their symptoms on Health Direct.

STI checks are completely confidential and safe procedures.  They often involve simply taking a urine sample, though in some circumstances an oral, vaginal or anal swab may be required.  Your doctor will help you through the process and your privacy will always be maintained.

 

What is the best contraceptive method?

Unfortunately there is no single answer to this question – it depends on you. Condoms are the only method that prevents both pregnancy and STIs, so consider using them even if you are also using another contraceptive.

Contraception.org.au and Health Direct have thorough guides on all the available options and their pros and cons.  Your doctor can help if you want a personal recommendation for your circumstance, and contraceptive implants are also available at the NHC.

Find out more about our Sexual Health Services for Women.

Where to turn for reliable information about pregnancy

Family planning and pregnancy can be overwhelming subjects.  As well as the emotional rollercoaster of excitement, apprehension and everything in between, there are health considerations that come with each step of the process – for both you and your baby.

Your GP can help you throughout, though it is particularly important pre-pregnancy and during the first trimester before public services become available from the second trimester.   If you’re planning to have a child, it’s a great idea to get a pre-pregnancy check-up so your doctor can assess all the factors which could impact on your pregnancy – from overall health and lifestyle choices through to cervical and STI checks.  Checking in with your GP early in the pregnancy is also essential to pick up any complications as soon as possible.

Pregnancy, Birth and Baby is a comprehensive guide filled with credible information on maternal health.  Give it a read if you’re thinking of having a child and remember to check in with your doctor early and often.

Adapting to life during and after menopause

Menopause occurs when the ovaries stop producing oestrogen and progesterone, meaning your period stops.  Generally, this will happen between the ages of 45 and 55, though in some cases can come earlier. 

The period leading up to menopause is called perimenopause.  The main symptom is a change in the frequency and weight of your period though mild menopausal symptoms may also start at this point, including;

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Itchiness and dry skin, particularly vaginally
  • Weight gain
  • Head and body aches
  • Moods changes and depression

Please check in with your GP if you notice any of these symptoms.  Usually, your doctor will diagnose you as menopausal based on your menstrual cycle, though on some occasions they may do some additional checks of your hormone levels.

During menopause, many women go through a period of significant physical and emotional change, including the symptoms listed above.  The most common treatment is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) which reduces symptoms by replacing oestrogen, and there are also other alternatives you can discuss with your doctor.

Changes to your body during the period of menopause may also lead to increased risk of a range of conditions such as osteoporosis, stroke and heart disease.  Your doctor will often recommend a series of additional preventative health checks when you pass menopause, as well as talk about lifestyle options to further reduce the risk.

The Australian Menopause Society and Jean Hailes are great websites to check out if you’d like to read more.

We’re here to help

From checks-ups through to health checks, pregnancy and menopause advice, our team of GPs, both women and men are here to assist with your health needs.