Women's Health

Essential screenings every woman should prioritize at every age

Women at a doctor's appointment speaking with her provider.


By Linus Chuang, MD, System Chair of Women’s Health, Nuvance Health

Prioritizing health is paramount to leading fulfilling lives. A crucial aspect of maintaining optimal health is through regular screenings, which can
detect potential health issues early, allowing for timely interventions and treatments. Here is a guide to the essential screenings’ women should consider at various stages of life:

1. Blood pressure screening:

Age to Start: 18

Frequency: At least every two years if blood pressure is normal; more frequent if elevated.

High blood pressure can lead to serious health issues like heart disease and stroke. Regular monitoring is crucial for early detection and management.

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2. Cholesterol check:

Age to Start: 20

Frequency: Every four to six years if normal; more frequent if at risk.

Elevated cholesterol levels increase the risk of heart disease. Early detection allows for lifestyle modifications and, if necessary, medication.

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3. Blood sugar screenings

Age to Start: 35

Frequency: Every three years if normal; more frequent if at risk.

Earlier and more frequent screening may be necessary for those with risk factors such as obesity, family history of diabetes, high blood pressure or gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

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4. Pap Smear (cervical cancer screening):

Age to Start: 21

Frequency: Every three years for women aged 21 to 29; every five years for women aged 30 to 65, along with HPV testing.

Pap smears detect abnormal cervical cells, which can indicate cervical cancer or precancerous conditions. Regular screenings can prevent cervical cancer or detect it early when it is highly treatable.


Book now with a gynecologist

5. Breast cancer screening:

Age to Start: 40 (Earlier if at higher risk)

Frequency: Yearly mammograms starting at age 40; earlier or more frequent screenings if at higher risk.

Mammograms can detect breast cancer in its early stages when treatment is most effective. Self-exams and clinical breast exams are also recommended.

“The American Cancer Society, American Society of Breast Surgeons, American College of Obstetricians and
Gynecologists, American College of Radiology, and most recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend age 40 to start screenings because there has been an increase in breast cancer in women younger than 50. Most of these organizations and Nuvance Health recommend annual screening mammograms because the benefits are huge — detecting breast cancer early affects the trajectory of your journey, from treatments to outcomes,” said
Susan K. Boolbol, MD, system chief of breast surgical oncology and the breast program at Nuvance Health. “We also recommend women have annual breast cancer risk assessments starting at age 25. At Nuvance Health, we evaluate your breast cancer risk when you have your yearly screening mammogram.”


Ready for a screening mammogram? Book now at a Nuvance Health breast imaging location near me.

6. Bone density test:

Age to Start: 65 (Earlier if at higher risk)

Frequency: Every two to five years, depending on risk factors.

Bone density tests assess the strength of bones and detect osteoporosis or bone loss. Early detection can help prevent fractures and other complications.

7. Colorectal cancer screening:

Age to Start: 45

Frequency: Every five to 10 years depending on the screening method.

Colorectal cancer screenings include colonoscopies, fecal occult blood tests, and stool DNA tests. Early detection significantly improves survival rates.


Find a gastroenterologist

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8. Skin cancer screening:

Age to Start: 20

Frequency: Regular self-exams and professional screenings as needed, especially for those with a family history or increased sun exposure.

Skin cancer is highly treatable if detected early. Regular screenings help identify suspicious moles or skin changes.

9. Eye exam:

Age to Start: 18

Frequency: Every two to four years if no vision problems; more frequent if vision issues or risk factors are present.

Eye exams can detect vision problems, glaucoma, and other eye diseases. Early intervention can prevent vision loss.

10. Dental check-up:

Age to Start: Childhood, continued throughout life.

Frequency: Every six months for routine check-ups and cleanings.

Regular dental check-ups help prevent cavities, gum disease and other oral health issues, contributing to overall well-being.

11. Other screenings to consider:

Speak to your healthcare provider about these other health screenings and if they are appropriate for you, regardless of age.

  • Thyroid function tests: Thyroid function tests, including TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) and T4 levels, assess thyroid gland function. Thyroid disorders, such as hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, can affect metabolism, energy levels and overall health.
  • Vitamin D levels: Vitamin D deficiency is common, especially in regions with limited sunlight exposure. Low vitamin D levels can impact bone health, immune function, and mood. Screening for vitamin D levels may be beneficial, particularly for individuals at risk, such as those with limited sun exposure or certain medical conditions.
  • Sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing: Regular STI testing is essential for sexually active women, regardless of age. Screening for STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV can help prevent the spread of infections and ensure early detection and treatment when necessary.
  • Genetic testing: Genetic testing can provide valuable insights into an individual’s risk of certain hereditary conditions, such as hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (BRCA gene mutations) or Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer). Understanding genetic risk factors can guide personalized screening and preventive strategies.
  • Calcium score: A calcium score screening non-invasive imaging test used to assess the amount of calcium deposits in the coronary arteries, which are vessels that supply blood to the heart. Calcium score screenings can detect atherosclerosis at an early stage, often before symptoms manifest. This early detection enables physicians to prescribe preventive measures and lifestyle modifications to reduce the risk of heart disease.

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The bottom line: 
Prioritizing regular health screenings is essential for every woman’s well-being. By staying proactive and following recommended guidelines for screenings, women can detect potential health problems early, leading to better outcomes and improved quality of life. Remember, consulting with healthcare providers is key to developing a personalized screening plan based on individual health history and risk factors. Your health matters—make it a priority.


Learn more about women’s health at Nuvance Health.