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8 Health Screenings Women Should Have




Health screenings are designed to help you keep track of early warning signs for common health conditions and to guard against potential health issues. 


But, which ones are truly essential for women’s health? 


Health screening tests, such as pre-cancer screenings, save lives – yet missed appointments tragically result in avoidable deaths every single year. 


While we can’t control all aspects of our health all the time, we do have the power to keep these vital check-ups on our calendar. 


In this guide, we’ve carefully curated which women’s health screenings you really shouldn’t miss so that you can prioritize these appointments and safeguard your help as you age. 


In this guide discover: 

  • A list of the top 8 screening tests every woman should schedule

  • Insights into what each test entails, it’s significance and the ideal timeline for scheduling them 

  • Additional resources 


8 screening tests women should make sure they schedule


Navigating the world of women’s health can be overwhelming. The combined challenges of limited information, prevailing myths, and long-standing medical biases can result in feelings of confusion and marginalization.


However, it’s high time we shift this narrative. A key step in this direction is to make information about women’s health more accessible, empowering every woman with the knowledge she requires to advocate for her well-being.


To aid in this mission, we’ve crafted a succinct chart detailing the 8 pivotal screenings every woman should prioritize, coupled with clear guidelines on next steps post-results. 


Dive into this resource, bookmark it, spread the word, and become an active agent in your health journey.


Disclaimer: The health screenings listed below are general recommendations using information from the US Preventive Services Task Force, and should not substitute for professional medical advice tailored to your specific health situation or family history. If you are experiencing any health concerns or symptoms, seek immediate guidance and investigation from a qualified healthcare professional. Your health and well-being should always be the foremost priority.


8 screening tests women need to prioritize and when to book them

Screening test

Your age

Normal & abnormal results: when to book a follow-up 

Colonoscopy

45+

Normal: If tests return normal, schedule a colorectal examination every 2 years.

Abnormal: A test is abnormal if polyps or abnormal tissues are found on the colon. Polyps may be removed during a colonoscopy and sent for testing. 

Our tips: You should schedule a follow-up with your doctor if these tests show that the polyps were determined to be cancerous or precancerous. 

Mammogram or breast ultrasound

40+

Normal: If tests are normal, schedule a mammogram every 2 years

Abnormal: An abnormal mammogram occurs when small white dots (calcifications), lumps, masses or tumors are discovered. 

Our tips: A follow-up appointment should be scheduled immediately with a doctor if these are discovered. 

Routine blood work for hormone levels and thyroid efficiency 

20+

Normal: If tests are normal, blood work should be tested each year at annual checkups. 

Abnormal: If high or low levels of TSH (see below) are discovered, your thyroid may not be properly producing hormones. 

Our tips: Consider completing a full blood panel yearly, assessing blood glucose, thyroid, hormones, CBC. Request testing for additional markers such as free T3, free T4 and thyroid antibodies, for example, to determine if you may have a thyroid disorder. If your tests are abnormal, speak to your doctor immediately about managing hyper- or hypothyroidism. 

Pap smear or HPV test

21+ (PS)30+ (HPV)

Normal: Normal Pap smears should be scheduled every 3 years. Consistently normal HPV tests can be scheduled every 5 years or as a PaP/HPV co-test in women aged 30+. 

Abnormal: An abnormal test means that abnormal cells were discovered in your cervix that may be precancerous.

Our tips: It’s important to always be cognizant of your discharge, and if you notice any changes, report them to your doctor. If a Pap smear or HPV test comes back abnormal, schedule a test every 2 years while managing symptoms and undergoing treatment.

Eye exam

65+

Normal: Eye checks in those aged 19+ should be scheduled every 3-5 years, and annually in those 65+. 

Abnormal: An abnormal eye exam may be an indication of several different health issues that may cause symptoms such as swelling of the eye, extreme dryness of the eyes, or other varied symptoms.

Our tips: If your eye exams produce abnormal results, schedule a follow-up with your eye doctor and family doctor to determine a course of action.

Osteoporosis screening test 

65+

Normal: A bone density test should be booked as soon as possible once women reach the age of 65

Abnormal: An abnormal test may show concerns regarding your bone density on the X-rays that are taken, which could indicate underlying health issues such as a calcium deficiency. 

Our tips: While the recommended age is 65, we believe women should get a baseline test earlier to ensure they don’t have osteopenia (which can lead to osteoporosis). If your bone density tests come back as abnormal, or indicative of bone fragility, you should speak with your doctor right away about how to protect yourself from falls and bone breaks, and prepare a plan to help strengthen your muscles and bones. We recommend increased strength training, vitamin D, K2 and calcium rich foods to maintain bone mass. 

Ovarian cancer screening test

45+

Normal: Ovarian screening should be done at least once in women after reaching the age of 45, although this test is optional for asymptomatic women. 

Abnormal: An abnormal test may show a mass within the female reproductive system that could be a precancerous growth.

Our tips: If your ovarian cancer screening test shows an abnormality, you should follow-up with a healthcare provider immediately to have the mass assessed. Screening tests cannot confirm if a growth is cancerous, but finding out in the early stages could save your life. 

Cardiovascular screening test

35+

Normal: Women should start getting cardiovascular checkups every few years after the age of 35, especially if there is a history of heart disease or heart conditions in the family. 

Abnormal: An abnormal test may show an irregular rhythm or heart rate, or inefficiency in your breathing during the stress test. 

Our tips: An abnormal cardiovascular test may be an early warning sign for cardiovascular diseases. If you receive an abnormal test, follow-up with a heart specialist as soon as possible to gather more information, and start booking more regular stress tests to track your heart health. 


To see a full list of recommended health screenings for men and women of all ages, visit the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force website. As always, speak with your doctor if you have a health history that requires a different frequency of testing. 


Want more details about the tests and what they’re for?


Keep reading to find out more about what happens during each screening test, and what these tests are usually looking for. 


What, why and when: What each screening test is good for and when to get it


1: Colonoscopy 


What is it?

A colonoscopy is the interior examination of the large intestine. During the procedure, a small camera will be inserted on a flexible cord into the rectum to examine your large intestine for inflammation or other concerns. 


Why get it?

A colonoscopy is a type of endoscopy performed to diagnose gastrointestinal diseases and colon cancer. 


When to book:

A colonoscopy should be scheduled every two years for women aged 45+. 


2: Mammogram and/or ultrasound of the breasts


What is it?

A mammogram is the X-ray image taken of the breasts. During the procedure, each breast is pressed between the flat, smooth plates of an X-ray machine. A breast ultrasound is often ordered when concerning spots are noticed in a mammogram.


Why get it?

Mammograms and breast ultrasounds can be uncomfortable for women, but these exams help to spot lumps, growths, and other abnormalities within the breasts that may be cancerous. 


When to book:

A mammogram or breast ultrasound should be scheduled every two years for women aged 40+ or more frequently for women with a personal or family history of breast cancer.


3. Routine blood work (hormone levels and thyroid function)


What is it?

Routine blood work should measure your complete blood count (CBC), red and white blood cells and hemoglobin levels amongst other markers. The thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) test is a blood test that will assess how much TSH is measured in your blood to determine the functionality of your thyroid. You can also request additional hormone level testing for markers such as free T3, free T4 and thyroid antibodies, for example, to determine if you may have a thyroid disorder. 


Why get it?

This test, along with other markers such as free T3 and T4, will help to diagnose hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid – causes tremors in hands, fast heart rate, muscle weakness, irritability, etc) or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid – causes fatigue, cold sensitivity, constipation, forgetfulness, etc).


When to book:

Routine blood work should be completed every year in women aged 20+.


4. Pap smear 


What is it?

A Pap smear or Pap test involves the insertion of a metal or plastic tool into the vaginal opening. The tool is then expanded and held open to allow a medical professional to examine the cervix and take a swab sample to test the cervical cells for health concerns. 


Why get it?

Although oftentimes uncomfortable, the Pap test is a procedure designed to screen for cervical cancer. Detecting cervical cancer early with a Pap smear increases your chance of successful treatment. 


When to book:

PAP smears should be scheduled every 3 years in women aged 21+, and every 5 years with a PaP/HPV co-test in women aged 30+. 


5. Eye exams 


What is it?

For women, menopause can alter eyesight. Eye exams allow medical professionals to assess whether there have been changes in your eye shape or vision strength. An eye exam as an older adult is the same as an eye exam for a younger adult: there is a great deal of attempting to read tiny letters on a wall that seems to get more distant each year. 


Why get it?

Our eyes and vision change as we age, often losing the ability to see at distances and/or up close. In order to protect eye health, as well as ensure you have glasses that help you to drive and/or read, eye examinations are important. 


When to book:

Eye exams should be scheduled every 3-5 years after the age of 19+. After age 65+, these exams should take place annually. We also recommend asking to have your eyes dilated so that the optometrist or ophthalmologist can have a good look at the retina and interior of the eye. 


6. Osteoporosis screening test


What is it?

A bone density test uses X-rays to measure the calcium and other minerals in each segment of bone. Frequently, spines, hips and arms are the focus of these X-rays.


Why get it?

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that develops when bone mineral density and bone mass decreases. During menopause, estrogen levels decrease, resulting in possible increased bone loss. Testing your bone density as you age will help you prepare yourself and protect against falls and debilitating bone breaks.


When to book:

The bone mineral density exam should take place for all women after the age of 65, or earlier for those who have risk factors. 


7. Ovarian cancer screening


What is it?

There are two ovarian cancer screening tests: a transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) or a blood test. The TVUS is an internal examination using an ultrasound wand that is inserted into the vagina, enabling the machine to photograph the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, cervix and the vagina.


Why get it?

Early screening for ovarian cancer increases the chances of detecting cancers in their earlier stages, which can significantly improve prognosis. 


When to book:

Asymptomatic women or women with no hereditary risk factors for ovarian cancers is optional for women aged 45+. 


8. Cardiovascular screening 


What is it?

Cardiovascular screening includes a physical exam. Your weight and measurements will be taken, as well as cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Your heart will be listened to for irregular rhythms, and you may be referred to a specialist if further evaluation is deemed necessary. 


Why get it?

This screening is designed to test for your risk for heart disease. You may require further tests such as a stress test, calcification study or angiogram to further assess if there are  abnormalities in your heart or blood vessels. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of morbidity and death in the US. Knowing the state of your heart and blood vessels will help you determine if you are at risk of heart attack or stroke


When to book:

Women should consider cardiovascular screening tests after the age of 35, especially if symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, recurring dizziness or fainting episodes, or worsening heart palpitations or arrhythmias occur. 


False positives and false negatives: myth or fact?

Science saves lives – but there are certain factors that could create a false positive test result, or false negative result during your screening examinations. 


Please remember to always follow-up with a medical professional after any abnormal test result to advocate for secondary testing to confirm an abnormal test, and to gather more information. 


Whenever your tests return as normal, also remember to continue scheduling regular appointments for yourself within the suggested time frames to continue to be aware of the changes taking place within your own body. 


Dr. Kavita Desai, PharmD, started her career as a hospital-based pharmacist, eventually opening her own integrated medical center and clinical pharmacy focused on women’s care and preventative medicine. These experiences led her to launch the women’s health and wellness platform, Revivele, and write, Lady Parts: Putting Women's Health Back Into Women's Hands.


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