Essential Health Screenings for Women at Every Age   

Essential Health Screenings for Women at Every Age

Woman shaking the doctor's hand, arriving at the doctor's office.

December 26, 2023

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Sumaiya Iqbal, M.D.

As the years pass, your body, much like your life, undergoes transformations. And as your body transforms, your disease risk changes, too.

That's why taking a proactive approach to essential health screenings is so important. While keeping your family health history in mind, standard medical screenings allow you to listen to your body and catch something as early as possible — even if you don’t have symptoms. 

But how do you know which screenings are right for you? At what age should you have certain screenings, and how often? The details can get confusing and overwhelming, so turning to a primary care physician like Sumaiya Iqbal, M.D. can help make it clear.

For Women in Their 20s and 30s

Your 20s and 30s are a crucial time for health screenings because it's when several conditions like cervical cancer, hypertension, and anxiety disorders might start showing up. Detecting and addressing them early can make a huge difference in your long-term well-being.

Through health screenings, you’re “taking essential steps to ensure your health stands on a solid footing,” says Dr. Iqbal.

Pap smear

A pap smear, or pap test, is a quick procedure that checks for changes in the cells of the cervix that could indicate cervical cancer. The doctor uses a small brush or spatula, often referred to as a "cytobrush" or "cervix brush," to gently collect cells from the cervix. 

  • Starting age: 21
  • Frequency: Every 3 to 5 years, depending on your age and HPV status
  • Conducted by: An OB/GYN during a well-woman exam, or a primary care physician

Blood pressure screenings

A blood pressure screening is a simple, non-invasive test that checks for signs of hypertension (high blood pressure). Hypertension often has no symptoms, and early detection helps prevent related health issues.

  • Starting age: Childhood
  • Frequency: Once per year
  • Conducted by: A primary care provider during routine wellness appointments

Body mass index (BMI) screenings

BMI screenings check your height and weight to assess your body's overall health and risk factors associated with your weight. While it doesn't provide a definitive diagnosis, it serves as a starting point to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

  • Starting age: Childhood
  • Frequency: Yearly or more frequent monitoring when lifestyle changes are in progress
  • Conducted by: A primary care provider during a routine wellness checkup

Diabetes Screening

A diabetes screening involves a blood test called A1C, which measures average blood sugar levels. Since diabetes is a common condition, early detection allows for effective management and lifestyle changes.

  • Starting age: Age 35 for those who have obesity
  • Frequency: Every 3 years, or more often for individuals with certain risk factors or a family history of diabetes
  • Conducted by: A primary care provider or endocrinologist

Routine anxiety disorder screening

Routine screening for anxiety disorders involves answering standardized questionnaires to gauge your anxiety levels. It’s a recent recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). Identifying anxiety in its early stages can help you get therapy or medication to improve your quality of life.

  • Starting age: 19
  • Frequency: As needed or based on your primary care provider's recommendations
  • Conducted by: A primary care provider during preventive health checkups

Depression and suicide risk screening

The USPSTF recommends screening for depression in everyone, including pregnant and postpartum women and older individuals. Similar to anxiety screening, identifying depression early can get you access to therapy or medication sooner.

  • Starting age: 19
  • Frequency: As needed or based on your primary care provider's recommendations
  • Conducted by: A primary care provider or OB/GYN during preventive health checkups

For Women in Their 40s and 50s

When you reach your 40s and 50s, you enter a period when your risk of conditions like breast cancer and colon cancer increases. Early detection through screenings can lead to more effective treatment, better outcomes, and the preservation of overall health and well-being.

Beginning around age 40, talk to your primary care physician about these health screenings:

Mammogram

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast used to detect early signs of breast cancer. Mammograms can identify abnormalities in the breast long before you notice any symptoms.

  • Starting age: 40, or earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer
  • Frequency: Annual, or more frequent if you’re at higher risk
  • Conducted by: A radiologist or at a breast imaging center

Colon Cancer Screening

Screening for colon cancer involves either a colonoscopy, which is a visual examination of the colon, or stool tests to look for signs of colorectal cancer. Early detection is key for colon cancer, and screenings can find precancerous lesions, making it highly treatable.

  • Starting age: 45, although individual and family history may influence the starting age
  • Frequency: Every 1 to 10 years, based on the method and findings
  • Conducted by: A gastroenterologist for colonoscopies, or a primary care provider for stool tests

Lipid Screening (Cholesterol)

A lipid screening measures the cholesterol levels in the blood. High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, and regular screening helps in prevention.

  • Starting age: Around age 40 in most cases
  • Frequency: Every 5 to 10 years, depending on results
  • Conducted by: A primary care provider during routine wellness checkups

Continued Pap Smears, Blood Pressure Checks, BMI Monitoring

These screenings, which have been in place since your 20s and 30s, continue to be important to monitor your overall health. They provide ongoing assessments and early detection of various health factors.

Continued Routine Anxiety Disorder & Depression Screening

These screenings, which should have begun around age 19, should continue at your annual wellness checkups with your primary care provider. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that these screenings continue until age 64. The USPSTF says that current evidence is insufficient to gauge the balance of benefits and harms of screening for anxiety disorders in older adults.

For Women in Their 60s and Beyond

As you reach the golden years, your risk of age-related conditions, such as osteoporosis and certain cancers, goes up. Stay on track with the necessary health screenings to be proactive with your health.

Bone Density Screening (DEXA Scan)

A DEXA scan is a type of X-ray that measures bone mineral density, assessing the risk of osteoporosis and the potential for fractures. This screening helps identify bone health and the risk of osteoporosis, which becomes more prevalent with age.

  • Starting age: Typically at age 65, although timing varies based on individual bone health and fracture risk
  • Frequency: Depends on initial findings and individual risk factors
  • Conducted by: A radiology or diagnostic imaging center

Continued Screenings 

Pap smears, blood pressure checks, BMI monitoring, colon and breast cancer screenings and depression/anxiety screenings should all continue. These screenings have been part of your ongoing health monitoring since your earlier years, and they remain important as you grow older.

Your Family Health History Matters

If someone in your family has or once had a certain disease, it might mean you need to start screenings earlier and do them more often. That's why your family health history is a vital factor in shaping your approach to health screenings. It offers crucial insights into your genetic predisposition to specific conditions, allowing your primary care provider to create a tailored screening plan just for you. 

Share your family health history with your primary care provider so they know if/when you should start having certain screenings.

If you have any questions or concerns about health screenings, your primary care provider is a great resource.

“Ensuring your health and well-being continue as you age is our priority,” says Dr. Iqbal. “We're here to support you through every stage of your life's journey."

Next Steps & Resources


The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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