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

Ask the doctor: When should I stop getting screening tests?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women generally no longer need to have Pap smears after age 65, and mammograms and colonoscopies after age 75. However, women should discuss their personal risk factors and goals with their doctor when deciding on screening. (Locked) More »

Should you seek advanced cholesterol testing?

Advanced lipoprotein testing, a more detailed version of a standard cholesterol test, measures the distribution, size, and number of different types of lipoproteins. For most people, the findings are unlikely to change a doctor’s advice. But certain people may want to consider advanced lipoprotein testing. They include people who have cardiovascular disease without obvious risk factors (such as smoking, high blood pressure, or diabetes) and those with a family history of early heart disease.  More »

Should you be tested for dementia?

Routine screening for dementia is currently not recommended for people without symptoms. Screening can lead to unnecessary worry for a condition that at present has no cure. However, women with significant memory or cognitive issues should see their doctors to determine next steps. More »

Why you need a bone density scan

To help avoid a fracture, women over 65 and those at risk for osteoporosis should have a baseline bone density scan and a FRAX score. How often they need additional scans depends on their fracture risks. The doctor can use their risks, as well as the results of their DXA scan, to determine whether they need treatment with osteoporosis drugs and then to determine whether treatment is working. (Locked) More »

4 important blood tests for women-and what the results mean

Four routine blood tests give women important information about their health. A blood sugar test checks for diabetes. The lipid panel assesses a woman’s heart disease risks. Thyroid-stimulating hormone and T4 tests evaluate thyroid function. And a test of 25 hydroxyvitamin D measures vitamin D levels. (Locked) More »

Ask the doctor: Carotid artery narrowing

Narrowing of the carotid arteries can restrict blood flow to the brain and increase the risk of stroke. Treatments include surgery or stent placement, but this usually is done only if the artery is blocked by more than 70% or there are symptoms.  (Locked) More »

New tests promise smarter prostate cancer screening and treatment

A number of new tests combine measurements of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) with other cancer markers in blood and urine to more accurately identify men who should have a prostate biopsy to look for prostate cancer. New gene-based tests provide information to help decide whether a man should have a repeat biopsy when the previous one found no cancer, yet PSA remains high. Gene-based tests can also help men and their doctors assess how likely the cancer is to spread and progress. A slow-growing, low-risk cancer may not demand immediate treatment. In that situation, a man could choose to closely monitor the cancer and move forward with treatment only when the cancer shows signs of spreading. This strategy is known as active surveillance or watchful waiting. (Locked) More »