A healthy life: Advice for women from their 20s to their 80s

Find out which preventive screenings are the best for you.

two women middle age and older laughing embracing eachother

You may not realize this, but your annual physical exam is one big health screening for women.

Guidelines and recommendations for when you need specific tests vary by age, but the annual exam is important to help prevent disease at all ages.

There are certain health screenings every woman should have every year. When your height, weight and body mass index (BMI) are measured, it provides far more information than your dress size. It helps identify women at risk for diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis.

Blood pressure measurements and other vital signs may indicate a risk for cardiovascular disease. All women should be screened for safety in their home (domestic violence), depression, and tobacco and alcohol use every year.

Immunizations also may be recommended, such as the annual flu shot. They are viewed as preventive medicine, something to keep you healthy and avoid a serious medical problem.

Every woman should see her primary care doctor once a year for an annual exam and screening. During that time, your doctor will figure out which diseases you may be at high risk for. Your risk factors can come from your past medical problems, your lifestyle, your family history of disease, or current medications that you are using.

Also, there are specific health screenings women need at every age. Here’s a guide for women from their 20s to their 80s.

Women in their 20s need:

  • Annual exam with pelvic exam and breast exam
  • Practice breast self-awareness at home
  • At age 21 and over: Pap smear every one to three years depending on your risks and history
  • Sexually transmitted disease screening: gonorrhea and chlamydia annually until at least 25 years old, or longer if you have risk factors
  • HIV testing at least once, maybe annually depending on your risks
  • HPV immunizations up to age 26
  • Meningococcal immunization, first-year college students up to age 21 living in the dorm
  • If you have certain risk factors, you may also need screening for skin cancer, high cholesterol, diabetes or hepatitis B and C

Women in their 30s need:

  • Annual exam with pelvic exam and breast exam
  • Practice breast self-awareness at home
  • Pap smears: every three to five years depending on your history and risks and type of test done
  • Sexually transmitted disease screening if high risk
  • HIV testing at least once or annually depending on your risks
  • If you have certain risk factors, you may also need screening for skin cancer, high cholesterol, diabetes or hepatitis B and C

Women in their 40s need:

  • Annual exam with pelvic exam and breast exam
  • Practice breast self-awareness at home
  • Mammograms: Sanford Health recommends once a year starting at age 40
  • Pap smears: every three to five years depending on your history and risks and type of test done
  • Sexually transmitted disease screening if high risk
  • HIV testing at least once or annually depending on your risks
  • Type 2 diabetes every three years, starting at age 45 (or any age with certain risk factors)
  • If you have certain risk factors, you may also need screening for skin cancer, high cholesterol, hepatitis B and C, and colon cancer

Women in their 50s need:

  • Annual exam with pelvic exam and breast exam
  • Practice breast self-awareness at home
  • Mammograms: Sanford Health recommends once a year
  • Pap smears: every three to five years depending on your history and risks and type of test done
  • Sexually transmitted disease screening if high risk
  • HIV testing at least once or annually depending on your risks
  • Screening for colon cancer
  • Hepatitis C screening once, if born in 1965 or earlier; also if at higher risk
  • Lung cancer screening for ages 55 and older who have smoked
  • Aspirin for ages 55 and older who are at risk for cardiovascular problems (talk with a doctor first)
  • Chickenpox vaccination, if they haven’t had the disease or a previous vaccination
  • If you have certain risk factors, you may also need screening for skin cancer, high cholesterol and hepatitis B

Women in their 60s need:

  • Annual exam with pelvic exam and breast exam
  • Practice breast self-awareness at home
  • Mammograms: Sanford Health recommends once a year
  • Pap smears: through age 65 with a history of normal results, or continue as directed by a doctor
  • Sexually transmitted disease screening if high risk
  • HIV testing at least once or annually depending on your risks
  • Screening for colon cancer
  • Hepatitis C screening once, or more often if at higher risk
  • Osteoporosis screening
  • Lung cancer screening for those who have smoked
  • Aspirin for those who are at risk for cardiovascular problems (talk with a doctor first)
  • Shingles vaccine
  • Pneumococcal vaccine
  • If you have certain risk factors, you may also need screening for skin cancer, high cholesterol and hepatitis B

Women in their 70s need:

  • Annual exam with pelvic exam and breast exam
  • Practice breast self-awareness at home
  • Mammograms: Sanford Health recommends once a year
  • Pap smears, if previous results weren’t normal
  • Sexually transmitted disease screening if high risk
  • HIV testing at least once or annually depending on your risks
  • Screening for colon cancer through age 75; consult with doctor whether screening is needed after 75
  • Hepatitis C screening once if born in 1945 or later; or more often if at higher risk
  • Lung cancer screening for those who have smoked
  • Aspirin for those who are at risk for cardiovascular problems (talk with a doctor first)
  • If you have certain risk factors, you may also need screening for skin cancer, high cholesterol and hepatitis B

Women in their 80s need:

  • Annual exam with pelvic exam and breast exam
  • Practice breast self-awareness at home
  • Mammograms: Sanford Health recommends once a year
  • Pap smears, if previous results weren’t normal
  • Sexually transmitted disease screening if high risk
  • HIV testing at least once or annually depending on your risks
  • Screening for colon cancer if determined necessary through age 84
  • Lung cancer screening for those who have smoked (through age 80)
  • If you have certain risk factors, you may also need screening for skin cancer, high cholesterol and hepatitis B and C

As you can see, the annual exam and health screenings for women are not a “one size fits all.” You need to make an appointment to discuss your personal risk factors and which tests are recommended for you.

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Posted In Gynecology, Health Information, Healthy Living, Women's

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