Because the goal is for you to stay as healthy as possible, you should discuss various healthcare tests with your doctor. The tests you will need depends on your age, health, and risk factors. These risk factors might include family history, such as having a close relative with cancer, and lifestyle issues, such as smoking.
Depending on your personal risk factors and family medical history, your health care provider may recommend additional or more frequent screenings. Here’s a list of screenings every woman may need at some point in her life:
Starting at age 18, you need to have your blood pressure checked every two years. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can lead to heart attack and stroke. Ideal blood pressure for women is less than 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). Make this test a part of your yearly physical exam.
At age 21, the American Academy of Family Physicians and other experts recommend Pap smear tests should be done to screen for cervical cancer. Women who have a family history of cancer, who have been diagnosed with HPV, or who are at an increased risk for developing cervical cancer, should follow their health care provider’s advice about checkups. a pelvic exam should be part of your yearly physical as well, and will help your medical provider evaluate the size of your vagina, uterus, cervix, and ovaries as well as to detect abnormalities, sexually transmitted diseases, or cancer.
To protect yourself against heart disease and other chronic illnesses, it’s important for you to monitor your cholesterol levels. Have your cholesterol checked at least every five years starting at the age of 20. The ideal level is below 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) for your total cholesterol.
The higher your BMI, the more at-risk you are for developing certain conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. A BMI of less than 25 and a waist circumference below 35 inches is desirable for overall health. You can use several BMI calculators online, or you can download one on your smartphone.
Get a blood glucose test every three years starting at age 45 to test for diabetes or pre-diabetes. Before age 45, you may need to have your blood glucose levels tested if you have symptoms of diabetes or several risk factors. The range of normal test results can vary, but generally, a test result of 100 mg/dL or higher indicates pre-diabetes or diabetes.
At age 45 the American Cancer Society recommends that all women should get a mammogram annually. Some women with a family history of cancer and increased risk for developing breast cancer might need to start even earlier. At your next physical, speak with your health care provider about your risk as well as when and what screening is best for you.
Beginning at age 50, you should be screened for colon cancer by your primary care doctor. There are a few ways to screen, but the most effective screen that can also treat some of the problems it might find is a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy procedure allows your physician to examine your entire colon. Other good options exist, so talk to your doctor about what is right for you.
Starting at age 65, women should be screened for osteoporosis, a disease of low bone mass. Osteoporosis means your bones are brittle and may break easily. A bone mineral density test (sometimes called a DEXA scan) is the best way to assess your bone health and monitor your risk of osteoporosis, Bones naturally lose some strength as you get older, but women after menopause are especially at risk of osteoporosis.
A CBE is a simple physical exam performed by a health professional to identify changes and abnormalities in the breast. A CBE is not routinely recommended for women of average risk thanks to improvements in mammography technology. However, based on your individual situation, it might make sense to include this in your screening.
As part of your routine physical each year, your doctor should perform a skin examination to identify any abnormal moles or growths. In addition, you should routinely check your skin (everywhere on your body – including your scalp!).
Sexually transmitted diseases can make it hard to get pregnant, affect your baby, and cause other health problems. You should be screened for Chlamydia if you are 24 or younger and sexually active. If you’re older, talk with your health care provider.
You know your body better than anyone. Always tell your health care provider about any changes in your health. Ask them about being checked for any condition you are concerned about, not just the ones listed here.