8 Essential Health Screenings for Women

8 Essential Health Screenings for Women

Don't sit on the sidelines! Play a part in protecting your health.

1 / 9

By Taylor Lupo

Health screenings can help detect serious health problems early on, and they’re also an essential way to access the information you need to improve and maintain your health at every stage of your life. Here are eight screenings every woman should have on her radar, along with recommended times for getting screened.

Cholesterol and Blood Pressure

2 / 9 Cholesterol and Blood Pressure

High blood pressure and high cholesterol can increase a woman’s risk for heart disease and stroke. Neither medical problem shows outward symptoms, which is why it’s important to be screened. Starting at age 20, women should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years and their cholesterol every four to six years.

Women at higher risk due to age, weight, lifestyle habits and family history may need to be screened more frequently. Exercise, a healthy diet and, if needed, medication can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Keep an eye on your systolic and diastolic blood pressure by recording them in a tracker, like Sharecare for iOS and Android—it can let you know whether your reading is healthy, and help you spot changes over time.

Cervical Cancer

3 / 9 Cervical Cancer

A Pap test screens for cancerous or precancerous cells in the cervix, and while it’s recommended for women between the ages of 21 and 65, the guidelines for frequency have changed. “What we’re trying to do is educate women that they don’t need a Pap smear every year,” says OBGYN Matthew Breeden, MD, of Presbyterian/St Luke's Medical Center in Denver, Colorado.

The American Cancer Society recommends a Pap test every three years for women ages 21 to 29 and, starting at 30, a Pap test combined with testing for the human papilloma virus (HPV) every five years. (Some guidelines say an HPV test alone every five years is another option.) Women (including those over 65) with risk factors like prior cervical cancer treatment may be advised to have more frequent exams.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI)

4 / 9 Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI)

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) aren’t infections only reckless teenagers get. If you have unprotected sex with a new partner or more than one partner, you’re at risk and should talk to your doctor about being tested. It’s important to share your sexual history with your OBGYN—even if your physician doesn’t ask about it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sexually active women should be tested annually for chlamydia and gonorrhea; you may require tests for other STIs as well. Screenings are done with a blood test, urine sample or swab from your mouth, genitals or other affected area, depending on the STI you’re being tested for.

Breast Cancer

5 / 9 Breast Cancer

A mammogram, a form of an x-ray, can show changes in a woman’s breast that may indicate signs of cancer. Mammograms are performed regularly—annually or biennially—in women typically beginning between the ages of 40 and 50. “You can individually tailor, between age 40 and 50, what you want to do as far as screenings,” says Dr. Breeden. Mammograms are effective in detecting early stages of breast cancer before a woman experiences symptoms.

Research shows that mammography screenings in women ages 40 to 74 can decrease breast cancer-related mortality by 15 to 20 percent. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the greater the odds of successful treatment.


6 / 9 Depression

Screening for depression is now recommended by many health organizations, but it’s still one of the most under-diagnosed and undertreated mood disorders—and women are roughly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed. It’s important to know the signs of depression and, if you experience them, to see a doctor or mental health specialist.

Testing may include answering a series of questions, a possible physical exam and blood tests to rule out other conditions. According to Breeden, depression screenings for pregnant women and new mothers are the norm. “It’s usually done once or twice during the pregnancy, and certainly a screening is done before the mother leaves the hospital,” he says.


7 / 9 Diabetes

The CDC recommends women 45 and older be tested for diabetes, which is diagnosed through various blood tests. It further recommends that younger women with risk factors, like obesity or a family history of diabetes, also have their blood sugar (glucose) levels checked. Tell your doctor if you experience signs of diabetes, like fatigue, blurry vision or extreme thirst. A blood test may also reveal prediabetes, elevated blood sugar levels not high enough to qualify as full-fledged diabetes.

Colorectal Cancer

8 / 9 Colorectal Cancer

Screening for colorectal cancer typically starts at age 50, though in May 2018, the American Cancer Society changed their recommendation to age 45 for those at an average risk.

A colonoscopy is one of the most common procedures used to screen for this type of cancer that affects the rectum or colon. A specialist uses a long, flexible tube with a light and small camera at the end to examine the colon and rectum for abnormalities like polyps, which can become cancerous over time.

One advantage of a colonoscopy over other less invasive tests is that polyps can be removed during the procedure. Colonoscopy screenings are recommended once every 10 years for an individual at average risk, or more frequently for people with family or personal history of colorectal cancer.

Bone Loss

9 / 9 Bone Loss

The standard bone density test is called dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA) and is used to measure bone loss in your hips and spine and to diagnose osteoporosis. When bone density decreases, your risk of fracture increases. Women age 65 and older should have a bone density test. Those who may need an earlier screening include women who smoke, consume three or more alcoholic drinks a day, have a parent who broke a hip at any age or have very low vitamin D.

Detecting weakened bones or bone loss may indicate a need for lifestyle changes—such as increased calcium intake, daily exercise and smoking cessation—to help improve bone health.

This content was updated June 19, 2018.

Women's Health

Women's Health

Did you know that women are more likely to seek medical care than men? Sexual health needs, like pregnancy and contraception, often necessitate early visits to a doctor. But as we age, various health issues affect women more than ...

men, including depression, weight problems, and certain types of arthritis.In order to maintain your health and wellness, make sure you get an annual checkup.