Even if you don’t feel sick, it’s important to visit your doctor annually. At those annual visits, your doctor can recommend screenings, laboratory testing and immunizations, and offer counseling on other aspects of health based on your risk factors. Some of these tests are key in detecting serious health conditions and risks.
There are some basic guidelines as to what age you should get certain screenings. Keep in mind, your personal health history, family health history, lifestyle, and medications you take may overrule these guidelines.
According to a May 2020 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 48% of adults (including 54 percent of women compared with 42 percent of men) said they or someone in their household postponed or skipped medical care because of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than ever, its important for women to be advocates of their health and understand all the screenings and tests available.
To help guide women through better health maintenance, we’ve put together this helpful list of medical screenings to consider as they enter each new decade of their lives.
Annual Well Woman Exam / Cervical Cancer Screenings
An annual well-woman exam is a routine doctor’s visit that focuses on preventive care. During these visits, your provider will review your medical history with you, complete a physical exam, and provide counseling on any health concerns you may have.
Women are also recommended to have routine pap smears beginning at the age of 21, regardless of sexual history. This test helps identify pre-cancers or changes in the cells of the cervix. How often a woman should receive a pap test depends on her age and health history, but most women receive a pap smear every 3 years.
Genetic Testing – Family History Counseling
Genetic testing or hereditary cancer risk screening is an advanced testing modality that identifies if you are at risk for certain cancers and diseases based on your family history. You should consider testing if
You might consider this type of testing if:
- You have several first-degree relatives (mother, father, sisters, brothers, children) with cancer.
- Many relatives on one side of your family have had the same type of cancer.
- A family member has more than 1 type of cancer.
- Family members have had cancer at a younger age than normal for that type of cancer.
- Close relatives have cancers that are linked to hereditary cancer syndromes.
- A family member has a rare cancer, such as breast cancer in a man or retinoblastoma (a type of eye cancer).
- Ethnicity (for example, Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry is linked to ovarian and breast cancers).
- A physical finding is linked to an inherited cancer (such as having many colon polyps).
- One or more family members have already had genetic testing that found a mutation.
Mammograms are a form of imaging technology that detects masses in the breast. They are extremely important in detecting breast cancer in its earliest stages while it is easiest to treat and cure.
At Women’s Excellence, we recommend that women at average-risk for breast cancer should begin yearly screenings starting at the age of 40. High-risk factors include a family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or other inherited types of cancers. Women without these factors are at average risk.
Colon Cancer / Colorectal Screening
Colorectal cancer screening is important to identify and remove precancerous polyps or early cancer. There are several different methods of colorectal cancer screening, but colonoscopy is the most effective method.
Most doctors recommend screening starting at age 50, but this recommendation depends on your risk factors (such as family history of colorectal cancer) and which method of colorectal cancer screening you choose. Talk to your doctor about which screening schedule is right for you.
Bone Density Scans
Doctors measure the levels of calcium and other minerals in your bones using a DEXA scan to detect signs of osteoporosis. DEXA scans are simple and painless. Bone density tests can also determine how well osteoporosis treatment is working.
Women have lower bone marrow density than men do, making them more likely to develop osteoporosis, which can lead to fractures and other complications.
Most women start screening at age 65, but you may need screening earlier if you’ve suffered a fracture. Like most screenings, the frequency depends on your age and risk factors. The standard recommendation is every two years.