An important part of women’s health is preventive services. Well-woman visits, also called wellness visit or well-woman exams, are covered by most insurance plans. Go Red for Women defines well-woman visits as “an annual physical and discussion about your health that all women should get to help identify serious health concerns before they become life-threatening.”
Preventive services and regular screenings save women’s lives. For example, statistics from the Maurer Foundation show when breast cancer is caught in the earliest stages, the five-year survival rate is 98 percent.
Here is a checklist of recommended procedures and screenings for women over the age of 40:
Breast Cancer Screenings
- Mammogram: Mammograms check for the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Experts recommended women visit their health care providers every one to two years for a screening mammogram, starting at 40-years-old. Screening mammograms usually involve two or more X-ray images of each breast. “The X-ray images often make it possible to detect tumors that cannot be felt. Screening mammograms can also find microcalcifications (tiny deposits of calcium) that sometimes indicate the presence of breast cancer,” according to the National Cancer Institute.
- Clinical Breast Exam: This procedure further detects for breast cancers. Health care providers typically offer clinical breast exams every one to three years for women ages 20 to 40, and annually for women over the age of 40.
Colorectal Cancer Screenings
- Colonoscopy: This procedure is the most accurate colon cancer screening. It is an “outpatient procedure in which a doctor inserts a long, flexible instrument – about 1/2 inch in diameter – into the rectum to view the rectum and entire colon,” according to WebMD. It is recommended every 10 years, more often for those with a family history or other risk factors, starting age is 50, or earlier with certain risk factors.
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT): The stool is tested for blood, which is a potential sign of colorectal cancer. This procedure should be performed annually for women 50 and older.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy: This outpatient procedure uses an instrument with a camera to check the sigmoid colon, the lower part of the large intestines. It is recommended every five years for women 50 and older.
Heart Disease Screenings
- Blood cholesterol test: Blood cholesterol and blood pressure are often indicators of heart disease. Starting at age 20, women should get their cholesterol checked at least every five years.
- Blood pressure check: It is recommended to check blood pressure at least every two years, starting at ages 18 to 20.
- Fasting plasma glucose: This procedure measures blood sugar, which is often an indicator of diabetes. Your health care provider will use their discretion for how often, and should start at age 45, or younger if the individual is overweight and have other risk factors.
- Bone mineral density test: This test is used to show bone strength and osteoporosis risk. The recommended starting age is 65, or earlier if risk factors of osteoporosis are present. The frequency is typically up to the provider’s discretion.
- Pap smear and pelvic exam: These procedures check for cervical cancer, and should be conducted every three years, starting at age 21.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) test: Some experts recommend this test to accompany Pap smear and pelvic exams for a more accurate check for cervical cancer. At the age of 30 it is suggested that women get this test every five years until age 65.
- Positive HPV results: Women who have tested positive for cervical HPV, and have an abnormal Pap test result will get recommendations on further tests from their health care provider.
Women may test positive for cervical HPV infection, but have a normal Pap test result. This means they have genital HPV, but no cell changes were seen on the Pap test, according to the American Cancer Society. The American Cancer Society offers these options for women who have cervical HPV, but a normal Pap test result:
- Most women will get tested with an HPV test and a Pap test again in 12 months. In most cases, retesting in 12 months shows no sign of the virus. If the virus does go away and the Pap test is normal, you can go back to normal screening. If the virus is still there, or changes are seen on the Pap test, you’ll need more testing.
- As another option, the provider may suggest testing specifically for HPV-16 or both -16 and -18 (the two types that are most likely to cause cervical cancer). If testing shows that you have HPV-16 and/or -18, more testing will be needed. If the test doesn’t show infection with HPV-16 and/or -18, you should be retested in 12 months with both an HPV test and a Pap test.
- Dental exams and cleanings: Regular dentist appointments are recommended every 6 to 12 months, unless recommended otherwise.
Vision and Hearing
- Vision: Eye exams are recommended every two to four years for ages 40 to 54 and every one to three years for ages 55 to 64.
- Hearing: Hearing tests are recommended every five years for ages 18 to 45, every three years for ages 45 to 60 and every two years for those 60-years-old and older.
- Influenza vaccine: The flu vaccine gives protection against common influenza strains, and is recommended annually for everyone more than six months old.
- Pneumonia vaccine: This vaccine gives lifelong protection against pneumonia. Recommendations are two shots given at age 65, or earlier for individuals with chronic diseases, such as heart failure, lung disease and alcoholism, among other ailments.