Led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office, today is National Women’s Checkup Day! The intent of National Women’s Checkup Day is to remind our women to schedule regular checkups to maintain and improve their health. We also remind you to include physical activity, healthy diets, quit smoking, and follow general safety rules in all things you do to maintain a healthy and fulfilling life.
Yearly well-woman visits are important and you should discuss your health habits and family history with your doctor. We have composed a guide to help you see how often you should schedule various screenings. Be advised this list is not comprehensive nor all-inclusive. Women who are pregnant should see their doctors as directed by their doctor. Additionally women with certain illnesses or diseases should see their doctors as directed by their doctors.
Once a Month
Breast self-exam: Check your breasts for unusual lumps or bumps monthly so you can stay on top of any changes. The best time to do it is a few days after your period ends.
Skin self-exam: The Skin Cancer Foundation strongly recommends that you check your body once a month for any new or unusual spots or marks. Just remember your ABCDEs: asymmetry, border irregularity, uneven color, diameter bigger than 6 mm, and evolving shape and size.
Every Six Months
Dental check-up: Make sure to hit up the dentist’s chair twice a year for cleanings and other preventative maintenance, but you should only get dental X-rays on an as needed basis to prevent unnecessary exposure to radiation, according to the American Dental Association’s recommendations.
Once a Year
Full physical exam: This annual check-up should include a height and weight check, a blood pressure screening, a clinical breast exam, and any blood tests your doctor deems necessary. These may include tests for blood sugar, blood count, hormone levels, and other crucial markers.
Pap smear: If you’ve had three consecutive normal pap smears, are in a mutually monogamous relationship, and have no other risk factors, you could technically go three years between screenings. However, most doctors still suggest women see their gynecologist once a year and get a pap smear while they’re there. Your pap tests for any changes or abnormalities in the cells in your cervix, which is a way to screen for cervical cancer. For women 21-29, any mild irregularities in the pap test will prompt an HPV test to check for the high-risk strains of the HPV virus, says Dweck. Other than that, you probably won’t get an HPV test until you’re 30.
Pelvic exam: Even if you aren’t getting an annual pap smear, it’s important to visit your OB/GYN annually for a routine pelvic exam, where she’ll feel around for your uterus and ovaries. This is a way to check for fibroids, cysts, or any pain or swelling that might indicate an infection.
HIV tests: Get tested annually at your doctor’s office or a health clinic. The most accurate screening is a still a blood test, though you may get a mouth swab in some cases.
Other STD tests: It’s recommended that sexually active women get tested for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea annually until age 25. These can be run off your pap or with a separate swab of your cervix. After age 25, it’s still recommended that you get tested regularly for the range of STDs (including hepatitis b and c, syphilis, and the lesser-known trichomoniasis) based on your own risk factors, which you should discuss with your doctor. Of course, it’s also a smart idea to get tested before you have a new sexual partner or if you have any usual symptoms.
Eye exams: The American Optometric Association recommends eye exams at least once every two years, though annual exams are suggested for anyone with current vision problems (if you wear glasses or contacts, that includes you).
Every Other Year
Skin cancer screening: Skin cancer is a huge issue for women in their twenties, so see your dermatologist before your biennial appointment if you notice any suspicious marks.
Slightly Less Often
HPV test: At age 30, women should start getting an HPV test with their pap every five years. Luckily, it’s relatively quick and painless since the test uses the same cervical swab as your pap. Prior to age 30, you should not be getting tested regularly for HPV unless you have an abnormal pap, since strains of the disease are so common in younger woman and they typically go away on their own.
Cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood count: Your doctor will want to check these at least once in your twenties and once in your thirties, though some physicians give a guideline of testing them once every five years.
Thyroid test: Starting at age 35, it’s recommended that you check your thyroid levels via a blood test and have them re-tested ever five years after that.
Down the Road
Colonoscopy: This test should come right around your 50th birthday, unless your family history warrants an earlier screening. If you have a first-degree relative with colon cancer, it’s recommended that you start your screening 10 years before their age at diagnosis.
Diabetes screening: Routine diabetes screenings (which involve a blood sugar test) start at age 50 and should be done once every three years.
Mammograms: At 40, you’ll want to start scheduling annual mammograms, though your doctor may recommended screening earlier if you have a family history.
Only As Needed
Don’t be shocked if your doctor orders a blood test outside of these general guidelines, since many health checks are done on an as-needed basis. Things like your hormone levels, blood sugar, vitamin D levels, and iron deficiencies can all be seen in a blood test and may be ordered if you come in with certain symptoms.
Pregnancy Checkups, Screenings and Scans. Knowing what check-ups, screenings and scans to have and when to have them during your pregnancy is important information for every pregnant woman. On these pages you will find details on what is involved in your antenatal care, from ultrasounds, and other standard tests. You can expect:
Hilmantel, Robin. (2013). “Call Your Doc…” Retrieved from http://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/call-your-doc-its-national-womens-checkup-day.
Health Direct. “Pregnancy checkups screenings and scans.” Retrieved from http://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/pregnancy-checkups-and-scans.