Doctors have the ability to treat many deadly diseases when they’re detected early enough. This is why routine preventive screening tests are critical. And certain tests are especially important for women. Mammograms, pap smears and colonoscopies have the potential to save millions of lives. Many women still aren’t sure when they’re supposed to start getting these life saving tests or how often the tests are really needed.
A colonoscopy is suggested at age 50. Although there are a number of other, less invasive options, including a test you can do at home, that may be appropriate for some patients. Which type of test your doctor recommends and how often you need to be screened may vary depending on your medical history and other factors.
Guidelines for other screening tests can be equally confusing. There’s been an ongoing debate about when to start mammograms. Many groups, including the American Cancer Society, say women at average risk for breast cancer should get one every year starting at age 40. This has become the standars age to start baseline testing in the United States.
Experts say that while women should certainly be vigilant about undergoing tests for these common cancers, another good way to stay healthy is to have regular check-ups to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol levels and diabetes risk, since heart disease is still the top killer of women in the U.S.
Your physician’s decision to order certain screening tests at an earlier or later age than average may have to do with a number of personalized factors such as age, weight, existing health conditions and whether you have a family history of disease.
Patients should become familiar with the screening guidelines from organizations such as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the American Heart Association, then discuss a screening plan with their doctor.
Mammography: The USPSTF recommends screening every two years starting at age 50, but ACOG suggests women get a mammogram each year beginning at age 40.
Colonoscopy: The USPSTF says most patients should begin colorectal cancer screening with a colonoscopy at age 50 and undergo the test every 10 years, usually until the age of 75. A doctor may determine that sigmoidoscopy and fecal blood testing is sufficient. The American Cancer Society outlines similar recommendations.
Pap and HPV tests: The USPSTF recommends screening for cervical cancer in women age 21 to 65 years old with Pap smear once every three years. For women who wish to be screened less frequently, the panel recommends women age 30 to 65 have both a Pap smear and HPV test every five years. ACOG has similar recommendations.
Blood pressure test: The AHA recommends patients have their blood pressure taken at least once each year starting at age 20.
Lipid panel: The AHA recommend testing cholesterol and triglycerides levels every 4 to 6 years.
Blood glucose tests: Screening for diabetes should occur at least every three years starting at age 45, according to AHA.
A woman is her own best advocate. Be proactive about your health.