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

Should you be screened for a hearing problem?

  Hearing loss is an inevitable part of aging. Although hearing loss can be treated, most older adults live in silence rather than get a hearing aid. A primary care physician can look for earwax buildup and administer a hearing test to diagnose hearing problems. An audiologist can administer follow-up tests and fit people for hearing aids to help them hear the sounds they’ve been missing. Lifestyle measures, such as talking in quiet environments and using assistive devices, can also ensure that women don’t miss out on important conversations.   (Locked) More »

Making smart screening decisions: Part 4: Commercial screening tests

There is no evidence that commercial screening tests for conditions such as carotid artery disease, aortic abdominal aneurysm, peripheral artery disease, and chronic kidney disease are useful for women who aren’t at high risk for them. Commercial screening tests can be expensive, and they aren’t generally covered by insurance. Rather than investing in unnecessary tests, women are better off seeing their doctor to identify their disease risk factors.   (Locked) More »

No need for routine ovarian cancer screening

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has reaffirmed its 2004 recommendation that women at low risk not be routinely screened for ovarian cancer, because routine screening does not reduce ovarian cancer deaths. (Locked) More »

Your PSA test result: What's next?

When used to check for hidden prostate cancer, the PSA test does not offer a clear and unambiguous result. The test indicates only that a person may have cancer, but a biopsy is required to confirm the actual presence of cancer. If your doctor is concerned about your PSA test result, he or she might suggest additional testing to rule out noncancerous causes and to further assess your cancer risk before recommending that you undergo a biopsy.   (Locked) More »

20-second CT scan cuts lung cancer deaths, but is it right for you?

Having a CT scan to detect early stage lung cancer prevents death in current or former smokers at high risk of developing lung cancer. Early testing and treatment includes potential harms as well as benefits. Insurance will probably not pay the cost of the first CT scan to check for signs of cancer. If the scan shows a suspicious feature, repeat tests and procedures may be necessary to diagnose cancer. During the follow-up period, the possibility of having cancer can cause anxiety and fear in some people. CT scans add to your lifetime exposure of radiation and the associated long-term risk of cancer. Talk to your doctor before seeking the test. (Locked) More »

Making smart screening decisions: Part 3: Cardiac screening tests

Considering that about five times as many women will die from heart attacks than from breast cancer, cardiac screening should feature prominently on our list of health concerns. Screening EKGs or other routine imaging tests are not recommended for women who do not have heart disease risk factors, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, or smoking. Women who are at a higher risk for heart disease should visit a doctor to determine whether they need further testing. (Locked) More »

Dilated eye exams are critical

If you’re not getting regular dilated eye exams, you may be risking vision loss. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) is urging everyone to have these exams, which allow physicians to see clearly into the back of the eye. This is critical to prevent vision loss, which can be irreversible. The AAO recommends that by age 65 you have a dilated eye exam every one to two years, or as directed by an ophthalmologist. You can also protect your eye health by taking care of your overall health—for example, by eating a well-balanced diet and watching your cholesterol and blood sugar. (Locked) More »

Making smart screening decisions: Part 2: Breast cancer

It’s important for women to have annual mammograms starting at age 40, to catch breast cancer early, when it’s most treatable. The benefits of regular mammograms exceed the risks, which include minimal exposure to radiation. Women who are at high risk for breast cancer, or who have a lump, may also have additional screening with an ultrasound or MRI. Women who are comfortable doing breast self-exams should do them to look for changes in the breasts, or should at least see their doctor for an annual clinical breast exam. (Locked) More »

Should you skip your PSA test?

When a federally sponsored expert panel recommended that men not routinely undergo PSA testing for prostate cancer risk, it touched off a firestorm of controversy that continues today. Media reports presented conflicting expert opinions on the pros and cons of PSA screening for cancer. In such uncertain times, it behooves all men to learn as much as they can about the risks and benefits of PSA testing and make a deeply informed decision that could have serious health consequences—both good and bad. (Locked) More »