Women's Guide to Preventive Healthcare

Women have unique health needs that span the course of their lives. Luckily, when it comes to preventive healthcare, women are generally more proactive about getting regular health checkups than men.1

Being proactive about your health can help prevent illnesses and catch them earlier when treatment is more effective. But it can be hard to know which preventive health visits to prioritize. Here is a guideline for screenings, tests, and exams women should be aware of at each stage of life.

Age 11 or 12: Screening for human papillomavirus (HPV)

The HPV vaccine should be given at the age of 11 or 12 for both girls and boys. It is recommended that they get the HPV vaccine before becoming sexually active.2,3

The HPV vaccine protects against certain types of HPV that can cause cancers down the road, like cervical cancer. It also protects against genital warts.2,3

Age 13 to 17: Annual well-woman visits

Young women should schedule an annual well-woman visit with a gynecologist beginning in their teens. This sets them up for success when it comes to preventive health and gives them information on how to stay healthy.4

Gynecologist visits often include a physical exam, a breast exam, and sometimes a pelvic exam. They can include testing for sexually transmitted infections as well. These visits are also an opportunity to ask questions, for example about:2,3

  • Contraception
  • Sexual health
  • Sexual orientation

Age 21: Pap test

Women should begin getting Pap tests – also known as Pap smears – at age 21. Pap tests screen for abnormal cells in the cervix which can lead to cervical cancer.2,4

You do not need a Pap test every year. The age recommendations for getting Pap smears are:2-4

  • Age 21 to 29, a Pap test every 3 years
  • Age 30 to 65, choose between these options:
    • Pap test + HPV test (cotesting), every 5 years
    • Pap test only, every 3 years
    • HPV test only, every 5 years
  • After age 65, if your risk is low, you may have the option to stop having Pap tests. Talk to your doctor about the best plan for you.

Age 30 and beyond: Routine blood tests, blood pressure screening, and lipid screening

These tests should be done at your well-woman visit at least once a year starting around age 30. They check for risk factors like:4

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Heart issues

Age 40: Annual breast cancer screening

About 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer in her life. Mammograms screen for breast cancer and should occur once a year starting at age 40.2,5

If you have a family history of breast cancer, talk with your doctor. They may advise you to get screened earlier to minimize your risk.2,4

Age 45: Colon cancer screening

Colon cancer, third-most-common cancer in the United States, is treatable if caught early.2,6 You can catch cancer early by getting regular colonoscopies. A colonoscopy is a visual exam of the colon. Unless there is a family history of colon cancer, adults – both men and women – should get screened with a colonoscopy starting at age 45 and continue until age 75.2,6

For those with average risk, a colonoscopy should happen every 10 years after the initial screening. For those with a family history, earlier and more frequent screenings are recommended.7

Age 65: Bone mineral density (BMD) scan

A BMD scan checks for signs of osteoporosis, which is more common among women. A BMD scan should happen every 10 years, beginning at age 65. Earlier, more frequent screening may be needed if you:2

  • Smoke or used to smoke
  • Have rheumatoid arthritis
  • Have a family history of osteoporosis

Other preventive tips to consider

Here are some other tips women can adopt in order to lead a healthy life:2-4,8,9

  • Do not smoke. Smoking increases the risk of health issues, including:
    • Lung cancer
    • Breast cancer
    • Colon cancer
  • Stay up to date on vaccinations. These include:
    • Flu vaccine (once a year)
    • COVID-19 booster (every 6 months)
    • Tetanus booster (every 10 years)
    • HPV vaccine (2 or 3 doses depending on your age at initial vaccination)
  • If pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, schedule a visit with an obstetrician. By assessing your reproductive health and planning, you can be prepared for when you are ready to start a family.
  • Keep an eye on skin changes. If you notice any new or unusual moles or moles that change in size, shape, or color, see a dermatologist to get a skin cancer screening.
  • Enjoy alcohol in moderation. For women, the recommendations are 1 drink or less per day.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains.
  • Prioritize emotional and mental health. If you have changes in your mood or experience feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, or depression, speak with your doctor. They can refer you to a mental health professional.
  • Exercise regularly. Aim for moderate to vigorous exercise 3 to 5 times a week.

Make an appointment with your doctor

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), preventive care should be covered by most insurances. Refer to this helpful chart, created by the Women’s Preventive Services Initiative, to learn more about the recommended exams, screenings, and tests for women.10,11

It is always best to catch an illness or medical condition before it progresses. Make an appointment with your doctor today.

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