Women are the primary caretakers of their families. They care for their parents, partners, children, friends and thus all too often their own health becomes neglected. I frequently remind my patients that if they don’t take care of themselves, no one will be there to take care of everyone else. Additionally, as we age different medical issues arise, which requires a variety of screening tests. Below is a summary of what health screening you need based on your age.
Hopefully you’re familiar with pap smears and have gotten a few over the years. However, gone are the days of yearly pap smears. In fact, after age 30 multiple national medical societies recommend co-testing, where we test for abnormal cervical cells (via Pap smear) and for HPV (the virus that causes cervical cancer). If both are negative, you don’t need repeat testing for another 5 years. Many individuals think that the pap smear also screens for uterine and ovarian cancer, but this is not true. Pap smears only screen for cervical cancer, and if your pap smear comes back abnormal, your provider may recommend additional testing. If you think you may be at increased risk of uterine or ovarian cancer, talk to your provider about your concerns and options, especially if there is a family history of any female cancers (i.e. breast and ovarian).
Continue Pap smears.
Most women recognize this age as the milestone when they start getting mammograms. Most providers will recommend annual or bi-annual mammograms from 40-50, followed by annual mammograms at age 50. How often you decide to screen for breast cancer should be based on your individual risk factors and family history and after a discussion with your provider.
At age 45 we begin diabetes screening. If you have certain risk factors for diabetes, your provider may recommend screening before 45.
Welcome to your 50s! In this new decade of your life you will continue pap smears and mammograms. You’ll now also undergo colon cancer screening. Colon cancer can be screened for in several different ways, but the preferred method is a colonoscopy.
Thyroid dysfunction screening also begins at age 50 and is usually repeated every 5 years.
Osteoporosis screening doesn’t officially start until age 65. However, some women may be at increased risk of osteoporosis. Ask you provider if you need earlier screening.
For all ages:
Blood pressure screening begins at your first annual well woman and will continue at every visit. Cholesterol screening is recommended starting at age 20 and is repeated every 5 years if normal.
Consider sexually transmitted infection testing depending on your risk factors. Your well woman visit is also a great time to discuss sexual function, menstrual changes, contraception (which you need as long as you are having cycles), skin cancer prevention, fertility and bone health. All women should also feel comfortable enough to discuss their mental and physical well-being with their OB/GYN. We encourage you to bring up concerns about depression, anxiety, abuse, substance use, nutrition and exercise.
Don’t Forget Vaccines!
This is only a basic overview of recommend vaccines. Talk to your provider to see if you need vaccines not mentioned below.
All women: yearly flu vaccine
Ages 9-45: HPV vaccine to protect against cervical (and other HPV-related) cancers
Age 60 and over: Zoster to prevent Shingles
Age 65 and over: Pneumococcal to prevent pneumonia