You know that taking care of your health and well-being are important. So, you try to eat the right mix of foods, stay active and take time to rest and relax – all while juggling your daily responsibilities at work and home.

But there’s one more important activity that should be part of your health and wellness routine: Staying up to date on women’s preventive health screenings and care.

The good news is that most screenings are recommended just once a year or less, depending on your overall health or risk factors. So, fitting a doctor’s visit into your busy schedule may be easier than you think. And the peace of mind and health benefits are worth it.

Read on to learn what you need to know about preventive screenings for women at every age and every stage of life.

Why are women’s preventive health screenings so important?

The purpose of preventive health care is to catch health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and certain cancers earlier, and when they’re most treatable.

After years of data collection and research, we know the risk of some conditions increases at certain ages. That’s why preventive screenings are recommended at specific times and intervals throughout a woman’s life.

Plus, preventive screenings and care are usually completely covered by insurance, even if you haven’t met your deductible. But, be sure to check with your insurance company to make sure you know what your coverage includes.

Do you have HealthPartners insurance? Check your insurance coverage.

Who sets preventive care guidelines for women’s health?

Independent health organizations like the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) develop evidence-based screenings recommendations for all people by using data on health trends within the overall population and clinical studies.

Those recommendations are also adjusted as needed. For example, in 2021 the American Cancer Society and the USPSTF updated their colorectal cancer screening guidelines, recommending that screenings should start at age 45 rather than 50 for all people. That’s because data showed that an increasing number of people were getting the disease at a younger age.

Women’s preventive health screenings beginning at age 21

Cervical cancer screening

Cervical cancer occurs in the cells of the cervix, which is the part of the uterus that’s connected to the vagina. Cervical cancer is most diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 45. And while the risk of getting the disease in or before your 20s is rare, it does happen. So, cervical cancer screenings are recommended starting at age 21.

Screening options

A Pap test is used for cervical cancer screening. Usually, a Pap test is done along with a pelvic exam during your annual preventive checkup.

Your doctor will examine your vagina and cervix, as well as collect a sample of cells and mucus from your cervix and the surrounding area. The sample is then sent to a laboratory for testing to see if there are indications of precancerous or cancerous cells.

When to get screened

Screening is recommended for women between the ages of 21 and 65, and is recommended every three to five years, depending on your overall health history and past screening results.

How to get screened

You don’t need a special appointment for a cervical cancer screening. Simply schedule your next annual preventive checkup. In addition to this important screening, you’ll get a full health exam.

Women’s preventive health screenings beginning at age 40

Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes screening

When a person has type 2 diabetes, their body can’t properly control blood sugar levels. This happens when the body’s insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, doesn’t work the way it should. Having prediabetes means that your blood sugar level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes.

Screening options

Three different blood tests are used to screen for type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. Because each provides different information about your blood glucose and blood sugar, your doctor may use one or more of the following tests:

  • Fasting plasma glucose (FPG) – This blood test measures your blood sugar at a single point in time, after you’ve fasted for at least eight hours.
  • Hemoglobin A1c – This blood test provides average levels of blood sugar over three months. You can eat and drink before this test.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test – During this test you’ll provide two blood samples, including one before you drink a mixture of glucose dissolved in water, and one two hours later. This test shows how well your body processes glucose.

When to get screened

If you are overweight and between the ages of 40 and 70 years old, your doctor may recommend diabetes screening. Screenings are typically done every three years. But depending on your overall health and risk factors, your doctor may recommend screening at an earlier age or more often.

How to get screened

Talk to your primary care doctor at your next annual exam to see if you should be screened for diabetes or prediabetes.

Women’s preventive health screenings beginning at age 45

Colorectal cancer screening

Colorectal cancer begins in your colon, which is your large intestine and rectum. It’s the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

Colorectal cancer usually doesn’t have any symptoms in the early stages of the disease, when it’s easiest to treat. That’s why regular preventive screenings are so important.

Screening options

A colonoscopy is the most common colorectal screening tool. You’ll get detailed instructions from your care team on how to prepare for your colonoscopy. During a colonoscopy, a specially trained doctor guides a small lighted scope with a camera attached into your rectum. This allows your doctor to look for tissue abnormalities or growths, and either remove them or take a sample for testing.

Stool tests like a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) are also options depending on your health history and risk factors. A FIT test is completed at home.

When to get screened

The latest colon cancer screening guidelines recommend people begin screenings at age 45 and continue to do so until around age 75. FIT tests are done annually, whereas colonoscopies take place just once every 10 years for many people. Depending on your individual risk factors, overall health and past screening results, your doctor may recommend screenings to begin earlier or more often.

How to get screened

If you’re not sure when or which screening option is best for you, talk with your primary care doctor at your next checkup. They’ll be able to walk you through your options and their recommendations, and help you get a screening scheduled if needed.

If you know you’re due for a colonoscopy, you can schedule your screening online.

Women’s preventive health screenings beginning at age 50

Breast cancer screening

One in eight women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis during her lifetime. Breast cancer is usually found in women 50 or older. And like other cancers, most women don’t experience any breast cancer symptoms until the disease is more advanced.

That’s why routine breast cancer screenings are so important. They can identify the disease earlier, when it’s most treatable.

Screening options

In most cases, a mammogram will be used to screen for breast cancer. A mammogram is an X-ray image that is used to detect tumors in the breast. During the procedure you’ll stand in front of a special machine. The doctor will place your breast on a plastic plate. Then another plate will press down from above to hold your breast in place while the image is taken.

When to get screened

It’s often recommended that women between the ages of 50 and 74 get a mammogram every 1-2 years. However, your doctor will likely start discussing the benefits of screening mammograms around the age of 40 – or even earlier depending on your individual risk factors.

If you have a family history of breast cancer, your doctor may recommend screenings begin as early as 35. If this is the case, you’ll want to check with your insurance company to understand your coverage.

How to get screened

It’s easy to get screened. Some of our clinics offer walk-in mammograms to accommodate our patients’ busy schedules. But you can also schedule an appointment in advance if that works better for you.

Lung cancer screening

Lung cancer occurs most often in current or former heavy smokers and is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Preventive screenings can help detect lung cancer early, when it’s more treatable and before symptoms are noticed.

Screening options

A low-dose CT scan, also called an LDCT, is the most common screening test for lung cancer. During an LDCT you’ll lie on your back on a long table while the table slides through the center of a large machine that creates the images of your lungs.

When to get screened

Lung cancer screening guidelines recommend yearly testing for women between 55 to 80 years old who have a 30 pack-year smoking history, and who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.

How to get screened

Talk with your doctor about lung cancer screening at your next yearly checkup.

Women’s preventive health screenings beginning at 65

Osteoporosis screening

As we age, our bodies change. Changes in bone density is something we’ll all eventually experience. But some people can lose too much bone mass, causing their bones to become extremely fragile and leading to osteoporosis.

Women are four times more likely than men to get osteoporosis because bone loss can speed up after menopause. Screenings help identify any issues and if any treatments are needed.

Screening options

This is probably the easiest screening on the list. That’s because all you need to do is answer some questions. Your doctor then evaluates your risk of osteoporosis based on your answers and factors such as age, weight and estrogen use.

If the results from this assessment show you’re at risk of osteoporosis, your doctor may recommend a bone density test, which uses X-ray to measure the grams of calcium and other bone minerals that are present in a specific area of bone.

When to get screened

Screening is recommended for women over age 65, or maybe earlier for postmenopausal women with other risk factors.

How to get screened

Talk with your doctor about osteoporosis screening at your next annual preventive checkup.

Bonus: Women’s health screenings during pregnancy

There are a few additional screening tests used during pregnancy, no matter your age. These tests identify things that could impact the healthy development of your unborn child and include:

  • Asymptomatic Bacteriuria
  • Hepatitis B
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Syphilis Infection
  • Preeclampsia
  • Rh(D) Incompatibility

If you are older than 35, your doctor may recommend additional testing such as prenatal screening to look for birth defects. If you’re pregnant and have questions about any of these tests, talk to your doctor.

Stay on top of preventive screenings and stay healthy

Your health is important at every age and every stage. And preventive women’s health screenings are the best way to stay on top of your health and address any issues early.

Of course, if you’re experiencing any concerning symptoms, don’t wait for your yearly checkup to talk to your doctor. You can schedule a primary care office visit or video visit anytime.

You can also call our free nurse line 24/7. HealthPartners patients can call 800-551-0859. Park Nicollet patients can call their clinic directly during regular business hours, or 952-993-4665 if it’s after hours.