Best time for tests
Get accurate results from your health exams
By Kim Goggins
First published in Chatelaine’s March 2003 issue.
© Kim Goggins
Medical tests and examinations are a fact of life for women. But did you know there are better times than others to have your Pap smear or mammogram, for example, to get the most accurate results? We talked to medical experts about five of the most common tests women undergo–so, grab a pen and your calendar and read on.
A doctor performs a Pap smear by taking a sample of cells from the cervix, the opening to the uterus, to look for precancerous cells. Once you are sexually active, you should get a Pap within the year of your first experience of sexual intercourse, then every two years thereafter, unless your doctor tells you to come in more frequently.
Best time for the test One week after your menstrual period stops. Blood mixed in with the cervical sample may make it difficult for lab technicians to make an accurate diagnosis. Refrain from sex 24 hours before the test.
Clinical breast exam
If you’re over 20, your doctor should be examining your breasts once a year, more often if you’ve had a lump. Best time for the exam Seven to 10 days after the first day of your period when your breasts are not tender, says Dr. Moira Stilwell, medical director of the breast health program at British Columbia’s Women’s Hospital and Health Centre.
Having trouble getting pregnant? Perhaps you’re confused about when you ovulate. A typical menstrual cycle starts on the first day you bleed and ends the day your next period starts. Most women have 28-day cycles, which means they ovulate midway through (Day 12 to 14), according to Dr. Andrew Browning of the Barrie Fertility Centre in Ontario. Ovulation predictors can help you know when you’re about to ovulate by measuring the surge in the luteinizing hormone (LH) in your urine.
Best time for the test Once a day, one or two days before you think you will ovulate. When the test strip indicates a rise in your LH, you should ovulate within 24 to 36 hours, which is the perfect time to snuggle up with your partner! Other methods such as the Ovu-Trac Natural Fertility Tester track changes in your saliva for fertility.
Home pregnancy test
You’ve missed your period and you’re experiencing breast tenderness, fatigue and queasiness. The easiest way to find out if you’re pregnant is to buy a drugstore pregnancy test.
Best time for the test Any time after your missed period should have started. Tests taken before that time may yield a false result. The reason: not enough human chorionic gonadotropin hormone is in your system to register on the pregnancy test.
Placing your breasts between two plastic plates isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. And you don’t want to repeat a mammogram if it fails to take a clear picture.
Best time for the test A week after your period starts when your hormone levels are low, says Dr. Dan Franic, mammography co-0rdinator at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. That’s when your breasts are less dense and no longer sensitive.