Essential health screening tests for every woman

Published On: Jan 17 2013 02:02:08 PM CST
Medical doctor

Ten screening tests can help you spot certain diseases, like cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis, before you have symptoms.  Which screening tests you need depends on your age, family history, your own health history, and other risk factors.

The earlier you find breast cancer, the better your chance of a cure.  Mammograms are low-dose X-rays that can often find a lump before you ever feel it.  Women in their 40s should have a mammogram every year.  Your doctor may recommend more frequent screenings if you are at higher risk.

Regular Pap smears can help prevent cervical cancer.  The main cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV), a type of STD.  Two vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, can protect women under age 26 from several strains of HPV.  However, the vaccines do not protect against all the cancer-causing strains of HPV, which is why it is still important to get routine Pap smears.

You can prevent and treat osteoporosis before it starts. Osteoporosis is a state when a person’s bones are weak and fragile.  A special type of X-ray called dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) can measure bone strength and find osteoporosis before breaks happen. It can also help predict the risk of future breaks. This screening is recommended for all women age 65 and above.

Early treatment can be effective for several types of skin cancer.  You should also get your skin checked by a dermatologist or other health professional during your regular physicals.  Watch for any changes in your skin markings, including moles and freckles. Pay attention to changes in their shape, color, and size.

It is also important to be screened for high blood pressure. High blood pressure can cause life-threatening heart attacks or strokes without any warning. Normal adult blood pressure is below 120/80. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is 140/90 or above.  Ask your doctor how often to have your blood pressure checked.

You may also want to check your cholesterol.  High cholesterol can cause plaque to clog your arteries.  Plaque can build up for many years without symptoms, eventually causing a heart attack or stroke.  A blood test can measure total cholesterol, LDL "bad" cholesterol and HDL "good" cholesterol.

You’ll probably have to fast for eight hours or so before having your blood tested for diabetes.  One-third of Americans with diabetes don’t know they have it. 

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.  It can be symptom-free for many years. The only way to find out if you have the virus is with blood tests.

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death after lung cancer.  A colonoscopy is a common screening test.  

Glaucoma happens when pressure builds up inside your eye. Without treatment, it can damage the optic nerve and cause blindness.  People without risk factors or symptoms of eye disease should get a baseline eye exam, including a test for glaucoma, at age 40.