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Women’s Health Screening Guidelines: How women can get – and stay – healthy

Lauren Ryan

March is Women’s History Month, a month to celebrate women’s history, share stories about women having an impact on their fields, and examine how women are represented across industries. Today, Color’s Head of Clinical Services, Lauren Ryan, MS, LCGC, discusses how women can stay healthy by getting the right screenings for their age.

It’s a safety message we hear often: secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. It applies to healthcare as well: when tasked with being the caregiver for others, people are more effective when they’re maintaining their own health. For many women, this can be challenging.

Studies have shown women make about 80% of the healthcare decisions for their families, but are especially likely to put off their own care if uninsured, younger, or from a non-white ethnicity.¹ Today, we’re sharing guidelines for women who have the same cancer and heart disease risks as the average US woman to empower women to take action that will keep them healthy. These screening guidelines could differ depending on your family history or genetic information, which your healthcare provider may use as they build a customized screening plan for you. 2 3 4 5 6

Celebrate Women’s History Month by learning your risk, making time to get screened, and helping others take thoughtful action to get and stay healthy.

Color Women's History Month

Age 20: Get your cholesterol checked every 4–6 years. Healthcare providers may discuss screening more often if you have elevated risk for heart disease and stroke.

Age 21: Get a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer every 3 years until age 29.

Age 25: Get a breast exam, risk assessment, and risk reduction counseling from your provider every 1–3 years until age 39.

Age 30: Get a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer, as well as an HPV test, every 5 years until age 65.

Age 40: Get a breast exam, risk assessment, mammogram, and risk reduction counseling from your provider every year until age 75. Providers may also suggest screening with tomosynthesis, which is a 3D mammogram.

Age 45: Check blood glucose levels at least every 3 years. High blood glucose levels elevate the risk of developing insulin resistance, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes.

Age 50: Get a colonoscopy every 10 years until age 75. Other options include: Stool-based testing (high-sensitivity guaiac-based or immunochemical-based) every year, stool-based FIT-DNA testing every 3 years, flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5–10 years, or CT colonography every 5 years. These recommendations may change if you have polyps, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or a family history of colorectal cancer.

At the time of menopause: All women are recommended to ask their doctors about the risks and symptoms of uterine cancer and report any unexpected vaginal bleeding or spotting to their doctors.

Best practices at any age:

– Women are encouraged to be familiar with their breasts and promptly report changes to their healthcare provider.

– Ask for a blood pressure check at every healthcare visit or at least once every 2 years. Providers may suggest screening more often if your blood pressure is higher than average.

– Know yourself, your family history, and your risks. Genetic testing can help you understand your individual inherited risk for conditions like cancer and cardiovascular disease.

– Get regular check-ups and cancer screening tests. A cancer-related check-up should include health counseling and, depending on age and gender, exams for cancers of the thyroid, oral cavity, skin, lymph nodes, testes, and ovaries, as well as for some other diseases besides cancer.

– To reduce the chance of developing melanoma, limit exposure to UV light by avoiding excess sun exposure, wearing a hat, sunglasses, and long protective clothing, applying sunscreen with SPF of 30 or higher and avoiding tanning beds and sun lamps. Any new, unusual, or changing moles should be reported to your provider or dermatologist.

– Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. Quitting smoking can decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke.

– Get moving with regular physical activity by engaging in moderate exercise–like walking, running or swimming–for a total of 150 minutes a week. Include moderate to high-intensity strength activity, such as lifting weights or yoga at least 2 days per week.

– Eat an overall healthy dietary pattern that emphasizes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts, and legumes. Limit saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and alcohol.

1. Matoff-stepp S, Applebaum B, Pooler J, Kavanagh E. Women as health care decision-makers: implications for health care coverage in the United States. J Health Care Poor Underserved. 2014;25(4):1507–13.

2. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Breast Cancer Screening and Diagnosis. NCCN Guidelines Version 1.2019. Published May 2019. Available at

3. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Colorectal Cancer Screening. NCCN Guidelines Version 2.2019. Published August 2019. Available at

4. Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection. The American Cancer Society. Updated March 19, 2017. Accessed August 14 April 2, 2019. Available at

5. American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer. Updated May 30, 2018 July 7, 2017. Accessed July 17, 2019 April 2, 2018. Available at

6. Eckel RH, Jakicic JM, Ard JD, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2014;129(25 Suppl 2):S76–99.