Health screenings and preventive care appointments are key to maintaining long-term health and well-being. By proactively engaging in these practices, women can identify potential health risks early on and take necessary steps.
This guide will outline the key women’s health screenings and care appointments to help you prioritize your health and stay on top of your well-being.
5 high-priority health screenings for women
Regular preventive care is vital, encompassing both women-specific tests such as breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings, as well as general assessments like dental exams, skin checks, STD tests, and colonoscopies, guarding health across all stages of life. Vaccinations are a key part of this proactive regimen.
Breast cancer screening
Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in women (especially Black women), but it is treatable when caught early. Mammograms are the key tool.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) used to recommend women start mammograms at age 50, but new recommendations released in May call for screening every other year starting at age 40.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute indicates that the primary objective is to detect cancer early, providing an opportunity for effective treatment and potential cure. In some instances, screening tests may identify small or slow-growing cancers that pose minimal risk of causing significant harm or premature death.
Cervical cancer screening
The U.S. National Cancer Institute recommends that women get their first Pap test at age 21 and every three years thereafter, regardless of sexual activity. This test looks for precancerous cell changes on the cervix. Along with it, a test for human papillomavirus (HPV) checks for infection with types of the virus that can cause cancer.
Starting at age 30, the USPSTF recommends screening using one of the following methods:
- HPV test every five years
- HPV/Pap co-test every five years
- Pap test every three years
Updated guidelines from the American Cancer Society recommend that women start cervical cancer screening at age 25 with an HPV test and get a repeat test every five years through age 65. However, testing with an HPV/Pap co-test every five years or with a Pap test every three years is still acceptable.
“Most women who get cervical cancer have never been screened in their lives, or have only rarely been,” says Debbie Saslow, strategic director for screenings and vaccinations at the American Cancer Society. These screenings are essential as they detect abnormal cell changes in the cervix, allowing for early intervention and treatment before cancer develops.
Colorectal cancer screening
The USPSTF states that consistent screening for colorectal cancer starting at age 45 is vital in both prevention and early detection. It recommends people between 45 and 75 years of age have regular screenings for colon/rectal cancer. Those who are older should ask their healthcare provider for guidance.
Colorectal cancer screenings can detect abnormalities in the colon and rectum, often before any symptoms appear. That boosts the odds for successful treatment and improved outcomes. As this cancer typically develops slowly over time, regular screenings play a crucial role in identifying precancerous polyps and early-stage cancers, offering the opportunity for timely intervention and reducing the risk of advanced disease progression.
Dr. Omar Khokhar, lead physician at OSF Medical Group–Gastroenterology in Bloomington, Ill., expressed concern about people who aren’t taking care of themselves.
“I’m worried about the people out there who are ignoring their symptoms, or they don’t have time, or they don’t think of it as being necessary,” he said in an OSF Health Care article. “Abdominal pain, unintentional weight loss, blood in the stool — these things may or may not be sinister, but if you are experiencing anything like that, you should discuss it with your doctor.”
Guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say all sexually active women under 25 should be tested annually for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Additionally, women aged 25 and older who have multiple sexual partners or engage in high-risk behaviors should also be screened annually for these sexually transmitted infections.
Left untreated in women, chlamydia and gonorrhea infections can cause serious complications. Untreated chlamydia can result in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause chronic pelvic pain, infertility and an increased risk of ectopic pregnancies. Untreated gonorrhea can also contribute to PID and lead to serious reproductive health issues, including infertility and increased susceptibility to other infections.
Skin cancer screening
Women should have a professional skin examination by a dermatologist annually to screen for skin cancer, according to the nonprofit Skin Cancer Foundation. Annual skin cancer screenings play a crucial role in early detection and prompt treatment, improving the chances of successful outcomes and reducing the risk of skin cancer progression.
Skin cancer screenings are vital because they can detect skin abnormalities early, allowing for timely intervention and treatment. If left untreated, skin cancer such as melanoma can progress and spread to other parts of the body, leading to more extensive and challenging treatment. Early detection through screenings increases the chances of early diagnosis and successful treatment.
By proactively engaging in these screenings, women can take charge of their health and ensure a healthier future.