His & Hers Health
Need-to-know info to keep your reproductive system in check come checkup time.
Yeah, yeah, we know. Talking about your “down there” parts with your doctor can be less than a comfortable situation, especially while lying under bright lights, in a freezing-cold room, dressed in little more than a flimsy paper dress. So we did you a proper: we talked to local doctor Melissa Hollie about the most important sexual and reproductive health topics for both men and women.
Pelvic Exam & Pap Smear
Putting your feet up in those cold, steely stirrups seriously sucks, and that speculum might look more like a torture device than a medical implement, but pelvic exams play an important role in screening for changes to the cervix that can potentially lead to cancer. “It’s also a screen of the health of the other reproductive organs such as the ovaries and uterus,” Dr. Hollie says. Women should have their first pelvic exam between the ages of 19 and 21 or after their first sexual encounter.
The Pap Smear screens common sexually transmitted diseases such as HPV. “Certain strains of the Human Papilloma Virus can lead to cervical changes that may increase the risk of cervical cancer,” says Dr. Hollie.
As hard as it may be for most men to believe, it can be easy for women to see their breasts every day and not really pay attention to them. Dr. Hollie notes that it’s important for women to be aware of their breasts—and no, that doesn’t mean treating them to lavish La Perla push-ups. It means taking the time to know what your breasts look and feel like normally so that if any abnormalities occur, they will be easier to spot. The best way to do this is to do a monthly self-breast exam. “They should be completed on a monthly basis one week after your period.”
A breast exam should also be performed by a physician at your yearly exam or sooner if you notice any abnormalities. “Women should have mammograms every year after 40 years of age or sooner if there is a family history of breast cancer in a first-degree relative—a mother or sister,” says Dr. Hollie.
Dr. Hollie notes that the two most effective forms of contraception are abstinence and male vasectomy, two options that might not be the top picks for most people. There are various other methods, including injections, patches, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and tubal ligation and the pill. “A physician should personalize the method of contraception for each patient, taking into account her medical history,” says Dr. Hollie.
The pill is the most common form of contraception and in addition to helping prevent pregnancy, it can be used to manage abnormal periods and ovarian cysts. The doctor warns that women taking hormonal contraception like the pill who are over 35 should avoid smoking—the combination greatly increases the chance of blood clots that can be fatal. Besides, ladies, smoking at any age is so not sexy.
Just as it’s important for women to pay attention to their breasts for any abnormalities, men should perform self-genital exams monthly to check for changes in the skin or the occurrence of lumps or masses, especially in the testicular area. Dr. Hollie says physicians also perform this exam yearly at male patients’ health maintenance exam. Compared to their female counterparts, however, men often don’t manage to get to the doctor for these exams when they should, which is why self-examination and self-awareness is a must. Not keen on knowing thy self that much? Look at it as monthly “me” time.
Dr. Hollie advises that men 40 and older go in for a yearly exam of their prostate. The prostate is a chestnut-sized gland in the urethra that produces a secretion that makes up seminal fluid. At this visit, patients should also have a PSA or Prostate-Specific Antigen screening for prostate cancer. As they will for women with a family history of breast cancer, physicians may opt to screening men younger than 40 if their fathers, brothers, uncles or other males have had prostate cancer.
Erectile Dysfunction, also referred to as impotence, affects one in 10 men. The cause can be both psychological and physiological. Dr. Hollie notes patients who have difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection or achieving ejaculation should not put off talking to their doctor because “the issue could be a result of underlying problems with circulation, such as hypertension or diabetes.”
About the Doc
Melissa Hollie, M.D., is the founder and director of Aesthetic Medical Associates, a private practice located in the Central West End. A native St. Louisan, Dr. Hollie attended Saint Louis University School of Medicine and completed her residency in family practice at St. John’s Mercy Health Center. She is a board-certified family physician and assistant clinical professor in the Department of Community and Family Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. For more info or to book an appointment with Dr. Hollie, call 314.652.8923 or log on to aesmedstl.com.