Staying healthy is much easier (and more affordable) than being sick. Although it can be tough to get to the doctor regularly, women should make the time for preventative care appointments. What you need and how often differs depending on age and other factors.
Here are some checkups to protect your health throughout the decades.
Screenings in Your 20s and 30s
A pap smear to screen for cervical cancer is one you’re probably familiar with already. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women age 21 to 29 get a pap test every three years. Most women adhere to this recommendation. According to a 2015 health report from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 70 percent of women have had a pap test within the past three years. What’s somewhat new is the recommendation for women over 30 to get a pap test every five years, combined with an HPV screening.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), affecting about 79 million Americans, according to the CDC. HPV is responsible for many cases of cervical and oral cancer.
Sexually active women should have additional STI screenings at this time. You may also be talking to your doctor about birth control options and plans for having children.
Tests in Your 40s and Older
Women of average risk of breast cancer should get a mammogram every year from age 45 until age 55. After that, you can get one every other year, according to the latest recommendations by the American Cancer Society (ACS).
Colon cancer screenings begin for women around age 50 and should be done every 10 years. If you’re dreading a colonoscopy, don’t worry. That’s not the only test that screens for colon cancer. The ACS describes other options to discuss with your doctor, such as a stool test or double-contrast barium enema. ACOG notes that colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer death among women, and it’s highly treatable when caught early, so be sure to pencil this test in every decade.
After menopause, you lose bone faster than your body can make new bone. This leads to weaker bones and the development of osteoporosis. Having low bone density greatly increases your risk of fractures, particularly hip fractures. The Office on Women’s Health recommends getting a bone density screening starting at age 65, earlier if your doctor determines you’re at a higher risk.
Heart Disease Screening at Any Age
Heart disease is the number one cause of death for women in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. Starting at age 20, a woman should have a heart disease screening as part of her annual checkup. This includes blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and waist circumference. At age 45, you can add in an annual fasting blood glucose test.
Although the Go Red For Women® campaign has brought a lot of attention, many people don’t realize that the symptoms of heart attack look different in women. Women’s development of heart disease often follows a different track than for men, as well. That’s why an annual screening is important. Talk with your doctor about your risk factors and lifestyle changes you can make to keep your heart healthy.
If you’ve fallen behind in your preventative care or you’re about to hit one of the screening milestones, be sure to call your doctor and make an appointment.