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.



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.


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

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 »

Hepatitis C screening could be critical

All baby boomers—everyone born between 1945 and 1965—should be tested for hepatitis C. That's because an estimated 1.5 million of them have hepatitis C but don't know it. This viral infection attacks the liver and can lead to cirrhosis, which leaves the liver scarred and functioning poorly. It can also lead to liver failure or liver cancer. Early detection is important because drug therapy can hold the infection at bay. New treatments for hepatitis C are more powerful and come with fewer side effects than older ones. (Locked) More »

Making smart screening decisions: Colon cancer screening

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among men and women. Several tests can find hidden colorectal cancer while it is still small and treatable. These include colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, CT colonography, fecal occult blood test, and others. Testing should generally start at age 50, but women (and men) with a strong family history of colorectal cancer should talk with their doctors about having their first colonoscopy sooner than that. It's best to have a colonoscopy once every 10 years; a virtual colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or double-contrast barium enema once every five years; or a stool check for blood once a year. (Locked) More »

Should you be tested for hepatitis C?

The CDC is urging all baby boomers (folks born between 1945 and 1965) to be tested for the hepatitis C virus. Boomers are five times more likely than other adults to have the virus. It can reside silently in the liver for decades, causing slow damage that may lead to liver failure or cancer. Screening for the infection requires a blood test. The next step is “staging” to assess if and to what extent the liver has been damaged. If the liver has minimal or no scarring, treatment might be justifiably deferred for some period. The treatment for hepatitis C is a cocktail of antiviral medications taken for 24 or 48 weeks. Highly effective new oral antiviral medications for hepatitis C are in advanced clinical trials. Preliminary results suggest cure rates up to 100% may be possible with a regimen of two oral medications taken for as little as 12 weeks. (Locked) More »

Update on genetic testing for heart disease

  Genetic testing has several uses. One is to determine if someone has inherited a condition caused by a problem with a single gene, like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Another is to determine how a person might respond (or not respond) to a particular drug. So far, though, genetic testing doesn't add much—yet—to determining a person's risk for having a common disease, such as a heart attack.   More »

When to get your hearing checked

  If you are having trouble hearing—or others say you are—a hearing test is a good idea. Common signs of hearing loss include difficulty hearing people on the phone or in noisy environments, or needing to turn up the TV or radio volume.   (Locked) More »

When to stop colorectal screening

The United States Preventive Services Task Force advises that everyone be checked for colon cancer from age 50 to age 75, and that testing should stop after age 85. It's a more individual decision for those ages 76 to 85. (Locked) More »