May is Women’s Health Month, with National Women’s Health Week kicking off, fittingly, on Mother’s Day, May 8, 2022, and running through May 14. The Office of Women’s Health, a part of the federal government, created National Women’s Health Week more than 21 years ago to encourage all women to make the right choices for themselves and their health.
Women’s Health Month and Week focus on the unique needs of women, such as issues related to pregnancy and menopause, as well as certain health conditions and diseases that may affect women differently or more often than men, such as heart disease, osteoarthritis, and UTIs. Women’s Health Month also focuses on women’s mental health, and encourages women to learn to manage stress in their lives and to seek help for mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.
During the month of May, women are encouraged to take time for their health, and schedule all of those appointments for preventive care and screenings that they may have been putting off. Many guidelines for exams and screenings have changed in recent years, so it’s important for women to stay on top of what is needed and when.
Additionally, women have different health needs at different stages of their lives. From the teen years to the childbearing years through menopause and beyond, women need preventive, individualized care that’s centered on their specific risks and needs to keep them in the best possible health and to keep them thriving throughout the different phases of their lives.
Here is a list of medical tests, screenings, and exams that women should prioritize at each stage of their lives.
● First OB/GYN visit between 13-17 years old.
● HPV Vaccine. The CDC recommends the HPV Vaccine for all girls (and boys) beginning at age 11-12.
● Blood pressure screenings at routine pediatrician appointments to assess for risks like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
● Lipid screenings recommended once in the late teen years to check cholesterol and triglycerides.
20s and 30s
● Primary care visit recommended getting a complete physical once per year.
● PAP Test and pelvic exam. PAP tests are no longer recommended annually; instead, new recommendations are for women 21 and older to be screened every three years unless there is a history of HPV or abnormal PAP tests, then more frequent screening may be recommended by your doctor but should be determined on an individual basis.
● Clinical breast exam. Beginning at age 19 during regular OB/GYN visits.
● Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) screening. Women younger than 25 who are sexually active should be screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea annually. Women over 25 who have new or multiple sex partners also need to be screened for these two STIs every year, but they also may need other STI screenings that should be discussed with their doctors based on their individual risks and circumstances.
● Family planning. Women should discuss birth control and reproductive health at least annually with their doctors, especially if they’re planning to become pregnant and start a family.
● Blood pressure screening. Once per year.
● Optional genetic testing. If there is a strong history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer in your family, your doctor may suggest genetic counseling to assess your individual risks
40s and 50s
● Primary care visit once per year.
● Blood tests and lipid screenings. Once per year or more often if at risk.
● PAP Test and pelvic exam. Every three years.
● Mammograms. New recommendations are for women 45 and older to get a screening mammogram once per year. For women ages 40-44, if there is a strong family or personal history of breast cancer, annual screenings may be recommended. For women over 55, if they choose, they can switch to mammograms every two years.
● Colonoscopy. New recommendations are for women to get their first colonoscopy at age 45 or earlier if there is a family history of colon cancer. Then it’s usually recommended to get a colonoscopy every 10 years.
● Lung cancer screening. For women with a history of smoking or who currently smoke, it’s recommended they get a screening for lung cancer beginning at age 55.
60s and older
● PAP Test and pelvic exam. New recommendations state that women over age 65 do not need PAP tests, but regular pelvic exams are still recommended.
● Blood tests and lipid screenings. At least once per year or as often as recommended by your doctor based on your individual risks
● Osteoporosis screening. For women 65 and older with normal bone mass, it’s recommended they get a bone mineral density (BMD) test every 15 years. For women with certain health conditions or risk factors, more frequent screening may be recommended.
● Skin cancer screening. Once per year, or more often if there’s a personal history of skin cancer or precancerous skin lesions.
● Cardiovascular screening. Heart screenings are recommended once per year or as needed, especially for African American women, those who have had preeclampsia while pregnant, or those with a family history of heart disease.