Screening Tests for Women

Screening tests are designed to detect hidden disease in otherwise healthy people. Which ones you should have aren't set in stone—experts often disagree on when to start having screening tests, how often they should be performed, and when to stop.

A good guide comes from the United States Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of experts. Its recommendations help define high-quality preventive health care for Americans.

Keep in mind that the benefits and risks of screening tests and procedures change as you get older. Your doctor can help you tailor the recommendations below based on your goals of care, personal and family health history, age, and life expectancy.

Test

Recommendation

Blood pressure

Have your blood pressured at least every once every two years if it is in the healthy range (under 120/80) or once a year if it is above normal (between 120/80 and 139/89).

Bone density

Get this test at least once at age 65 or after. Talk to your doctor or nurse about getting tested if you’re younger than 65 and about repeat testing.

Breast cancer

Mammography every two years for women ages 50-74. If you are 75 or older, ask your doctor or nurse if you need to continue having mammograms.

Cervical cancer

A Pap test is recommended every three years for women 21-65 who have a cervix. At age 30 a pap test and HPV test every 5 years is an option. If you are 65 or older, ask your doctor or nurse if you need to keep having Pap tests.

Colorectal cancer

Recommended for women ages 50-75. Talk to your doctor about which screening test, (fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy) or combination of tests, is best for you and how often you need it and if you should continue having these tests after 75.

Diabetes screening

Get tested for diabetes if your blood pressure is higher than 135/80 or if you take medicine for high blood pressure.

HIV/AIDS

Get tested for HIV/AIDS at least once after age 20, or earlier if you are at high risk for being infected by the human immunodeficiency virus. Discuss further testing with your doctor.

Lipid profile (total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides)

Starting at age 20, women at increased risk for developing heart disease should have regular cholesterol tests.

Lung cancer

Annual testing with low-dose computed tomography between ages 55 and 80 if you have smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.

Sexually transmitted infections (Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis)

Get tested for chlamydia yearly through age 24 if you are sexually active or pregnant. After age 25, get tested for chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases if you are at increased risk for getting a sexually transmitted infection.

Screening Tests for Women Articles

Chorionic Villus Sampling

Chorionic villi are small structures in the placenta that act like blood vessels. These structures contain cells from the developing fetus. A test that removes a sample of these cells through a needle is called chorionic villus sampling (CVS). CVS answers many of the same questions as amniocentesis about diseases that the baby might have. Diseases that can be diagnosed with CVS include Tay-Sachs, sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, thalassemia, and Down syndrome. (Rh incompatibility and neural tube defects, however, can be diagnosed only through amniocentesis.) CVS can be done earlier in pregnancy than amniocentesis and can be done when there is not enough amniotic fluid to allow amniocentesis. However, it has some extra risks when compared with amniocentesis. (Locked) More »

Fetal Ultrasound

Ultrasound is a painless way to show a fetus in the uterus. The test uses sound waves and a type of sonar detection system to generate a black-and-white moving picture on a TV screen. Fetal ultrasound is useful for determining your pregnancy due date and evaluating the health of the baby and its position. It can show some but not all birth defects (for example, it can show some cases of spina bifida. Although some findings on ultrasound are used in screening tests for Down syndrome, it cannot by itself diagnose Down syndrome). It is also useful for diagnosing twins and can sometimes show the sex of your baby. (Locked) More »

Screening for Birth Defects in Early Pregnancy (Combined Test, Integrated Test, and Quadruple Test)

Blood tests and fetal ultrasound tests for pregnant women check the levels of protein and hormones being produced by the fetus and examine how the fetus is forming. The levels of four different substances as well as early findings on ultrasound can enable doctors to identify pregnancies that are at a higher risk for birth defects such as Down syndrome or neural tube defects (brain and spinal cord problems). If the screening tests suggest problems, your doctor might recommend additional tests, such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, to confirm the findings. (Locked) More »

Colposcopy and Cervical Biopsy

Colposcopy is a procedure in which a magnifying lens is used to closely examine a woman's cervix, the entrance to the uterus, located at the inner end of the vagina. The colposcope is basically a pair of special binoculars on a rolling stand. By looking through the colposcope, a doctor can identify abnormal-appearing areas of the cervix, which can then be biopsied. A pathologist examines the biopsy specimen under a microscope to determine if a precancerous condition (or, rarely, cancer) is present. Colposcopy is done to evaluate an abnormal Pap smear. It is appropriate to have colposcopy if your pap reveals abnormal cells, particularly if you have human papillomavirus (HPV) found in the pap sample. It is also appropriate to have colposcopy if you have HPV found in repeated pap samples. This is true even if the cells appear normal.   (Locked) More »

Breast Ultrasound

Ultrasound uses sound waves instead of radiation to generate snapshots or moving pictures of structures inside the body. A breast ultrasound can indicate whether a breast lump is caused by a fluid-filled cyst or a solid mass, such as cancer. (Locked) More »

Carotid Ultrasound (Carotid Doppler)

A Carotid ultrasound shows the amount of blood flow in the carotid arteries, the major blood vessels to the brain located on either side of your neck. With this imaging technique, your doctor can see if there is any narrowing of your carotid arteries because of cholesterol deposits or some other problem. This test is often used to evaluate people who have had a stroke or who might be at high risk for one because of reduced blood flow in the carotid arteries. (Locked) More »

Gene tests for some, not all

Certain inherited genetic conditions increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, so having a genetic test may show whether a person is at risk for heart disease, especially if a family member has one of the conditions. More »

Cholesterol testing at home: It may be faster, but is it better?

If you don't mind pricking a finger, you can check your cholesterol without sitting around in a doctor's waiting room or laboratory. Devices available in pharmacies or through the Internet make this easy to do at home. But is it worth doing? The makers of home cholesterol tests rightly tout their products as faster than visiting a doctor. You prick your finger, gently squeeze a few drops of blood onto a test strip or into a small "well," and you get the results in a few minutes, instead of waiting a few days. But faster isn't necessarily better. The results won't give you the information you need to figure out your risk of having a heart attack or other cardiovascular problem. Nor will they help you check whether a diet and exercise program is working. More »