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:
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.
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.
Body mass index (BMI) is a more accurate indication of being overweight or obese. It calculates body fat based on your height and weight. 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.
A bone mineral density test is the best way to assess your bone health and monitor your risk of low bone mass or osteoporosis, a disease that causes your bones to become brittle and prone to breakage. Women aged 65 and older should be screened routinely for osteoporosis. Starting at the age of 60, women are faced with an increased risk for low bone mass or osteopathic fractures.
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.
A CBE is a simple physical exam performed by a health professional to identify changes and abnormalities in the breast. A CBE screening should take place every three years beginning at age 20, then every year after age 40. Make this part of your yearly physical.
The American Cancer Society recommends that beginning at age 40; all women should get a mammogram every one to two years. Some women with a family history of cancer and increased risk for developing breast cancer might need to start even earlier. Speak with your health care provider about your risk, as well as when and what screening is best for you.
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!).
A pelvic exam should be part of your yearly physical 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. Pap tests should begin within three years after becoming sexually active or at 21 years of age, whichever happens first. 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.
Beginning at age 50, a rectal exam should be performed as part of your yearly physical. If needed, your health care provider may schedule you to undergo a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. A sigmoidoscopy allows the physician to exam the lower part of your colon or rectum, where a colonoscopy procedure allows your physician to examine your entire colon.
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.