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

Brain scan shows best time to treat plaque

The best time to treat brain plaques may be the 15-year period when they are first developing. These plaques are found in Alzheimer's disease and are linked to a decline in memory and thinking abilities. (Locked) More »

Why breast density matters

Having dense breasts can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer and can make it more difficult to diagnose cancer that does occur. It’s important for women to discuss their risks—including breast density—with their doctor to determine the optimal screening tests and schedule and whether additional screening tests are necessary. (Locked) More »

Brain plaque vs. Alzheimer's gene

Two tests are available to determine if you are at increased risk for getting Alzheimer’s disease: a test for a gene known as APOE4 and a brain imaging test called a PET scan. Research shows that the brain scan is a better predictor. High amounts of beta-amyloid or brain plaque on the scan indicate that the disease has already taken hold. PET scans can be valuable because they can help determine if dementia is due to Alzheimer’s disease. (Locked) More »

Do CT scans cause cancer?

CT scanning is very valuable for diagnosing disease and also screening for certain health conditions in otherwise healthy people. But the radiation from CT scanning also carries a small risk of causing cancer over a lifetime of exposure. The lifetime risk from typical CT scan exposure is small for older adults sue to the long time it takes cancer to develop. The risks for younger adults and especially children are higher. At any age, it is a good idea to limit CT scans to what you need and to consider alternatives, such as MRI and ultrasound. (Locked) More »

Can we detect cancer earlier?

Harvard researchers have developed a new way to detect signs of cancer in the blood. They’ve invented a hand-held device that quickly determines the number of microvesicles in a drop of blood. Microvesicles shed by tumors have been ignored by the medical community for decades because it was not known until recently that they contain imprints of originating cells and also DNA and other molecules. The detection device may help find a person’s cancer before it has spread too far to be cured. It may also help determine how well a cancer treatment is working. More »

Do you need to see your gynecologist every year?

In light of new Pap test guidelines, some health experts question whether women still need an annual visit with their gynecologist. Yet doctors say it’s still important for women to see a doctor—whether it’s a gynecologist or primary care physician—for routine health checks. (Locked) More »