Screening Tests to help you Stay Healthy

Millions of women are alive today because their physician spotted a potential health issue early and successfully treated it. Millions of women are alive today because THEY decided to see their physician regularly for recommended screenings.

“Women have unique health care needs and risks during their life,” says McLeod Gynecologist Joycelyn Schindler, MD. “Many illnesses don’t have significant symptoms until the disease is far along. Regular appointments with your physician, along with the appropriate screenings, will help catch problems before they become life-threatening.”

Here are the most common screenings to remember:

Breast Cancer – Mammography. A federal task force recommends screening every 2 years starting at age 50. However, the governing body for Gynecologists suggests a mammogram every year for women starting at age 40.
Cervical Cancer – Pap smear & HPV tests. Cervical cancer is most common in women between the ages of 21 and 65. The Pap smear looks for abnormal cells in a woman’s cervix, possibly an early sign of cervical cancer. The test for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – the virus that causes genital warts and can lead to cervical cancer – is conducted with a swab of the cervix. Women should be screened every 3 years with a Pap test, starting at age 21. After age 30, the recommendation calls for both a Pap smear and an HPV test every 5 years until age 65.

HPV is commonly found in young women under age 30. However, HPV at this age is not likely to cause more serious health problems later. Additionally, there is now a vaccination for both young women against the HPV virus, which many Gynecologists recommend. (The vaccine is also available for male teenagers.)
Colon Cancer – various tests. Women between the age of 50 and 75 are most at risk for colon cancer. Guidelines call for a stool test annually and a colonoscopy every 10 years. If there is a family history of colon cancer, you should talk with your physician about testing before age 50.
High Blood Pressure can cause heart attacks, strokes, congestive heart failure and other problems. The American Heart Association recommends taking your blood pressure at least once a year, starting at age 20. Health fairs and some pharmacies can take your blood pressure. A blood pressure reading has two numbers (For example 120/70). If the systolic or top number is higher than 140 or the diastolic/bottom number is higher than 90, make an appointment to see your physician.
Cholesterol. Over age 44, a woman should be checked every 5 years. A woman with diabetes, heart disease or other problems should be checked more often.
Diabetes. A woman older than 44 should be checked every 3 years.
Lung Cancer. Federal guidelines now call for special screening for those who are or have been a longtime smoker.

For more information on screening guidelines for women, click here.


Under national health care reform many insurance plans will cover screenings with little or no cost to you. Check with your insurer or your physician to see what’s covered for you.

Sources include: McLeod Health, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality, CBS News, National Institutes on Health