Women’s Wellness Check: Understanding Your Preventive Health Screenings
Women's Health
April 24, 2024
Women’s Wellness Check: Understanding Your Preventive Health Screenings

As women, it's not uncommon to find ourselves taking care of everyone else first and putting our own needs on the back burner. But guess what? Your health matters too! Regular preventive health screenings are like little check-ins with your body, helping you stay on top of your health game and catch any potential issues early on. But, it can also get confusing on what kind of checkup you need, and when.

So, let's dive into this friendly guide to some essential screenings every woman should know about.

Pap Smears

The purpose of a Pap smear is to screen for cervical cancer by detecting precancerous changes in the cells of the cervix that could lead to cancer if not treated. They can also find cervical cells that are infected with HPV or other abnormal cells before they turn into cancer.

When to Start and How Often:

If you’re aged 21 to 29, get screened with a Pap test every 3 years.

If you’re aged 30 to 65, you have 3 options:

  • Get screened every 3 years with a Pap test
  • Get screened every 5 years with an HPV test
  • Get screened every 5 years with both a Pap test and an HPV test

Women who have had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) and have no history of cervical cancer or precancerous cells do not need further screening.

What to Expect:

Pap smears are a quick, painless procedure performed during a pelvic exam. The doctor uses a small brush or swab to collect a sample of cells from the surface of the cervix. The sample is then sent to a lab for analysis. Pap smears are an important screening tool, as cervical cancer is highly treatable when detected early.

Avoid vaginal intercourse, douching, or using vaginal medications or spermicidal foams, creams, or jellies for at least 48 hours before the test as this may interfere with test results.

Learn more about cervical screening tests:


Mammograms are X-ray images of the breast used to detect early signs of breast cancer, such as lumps or abnormalities. Mammography serves two main purposes: 1) as a screening tool to detect breast cancer in women who do not have signs or symptoms of the disease, and 2) as a diagnostic tool to investigate any lumps or symptoms that you have found yourself or that have been found by a health care provider.

When to Start and How Often:

The American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging recommend:

  • Women 40 and older should have mammograms every year
  • Women who are younger than 40 and have risk factors for breast cancer should ask their health care provider whether mammograms are advisable and how often to have them

Common factors that can increase the chances of developing breast cancer include:

  • Age and Gender — Risk of developing breast cancer increases as you get older. The majority of advanced breast cancer cases are found in women over age 50.
  • Family History of Breast Cancer — If you have a close relative who has had breast, uterine, ovarian or colon cancer.
  • Menstrual Cycle — Women who get their periods early (before age 12) or went through menopause late (after age 55).
  • Childbirth — Women who have never had children or who had them only after age 30.
  • Obesity — Obesity has been linked to breast cancer, although this link is controversial. The theory is that obese women produce more estrogen, which can fuel the development of breast cancer.
  • Radiation — If you received radiation therapy as a child or young adult to treat cancer of the chest area.
  • Genes — Certain genes, such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2.
  • Alcohol Use — Drinking more than one to two glasses of alcohol a day.
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES) — Women who took DES to prevent miscarriage may have an increased risk of breast cancer after age 40. This drug was given to the women from 1940 to 1960.
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) — You have a higher risk for breast cancer if you have received HRT for several years or more.
What to Expect:

The procedure is quick, though the compression of the breast can be temporarily uncomfortable. Facilities use low-dose radiation, making the risks extremely low.

You'll be asked to undress from the waist up and put on a gown that opens in the front. Avoid using deodorant, perfume, powder, or lotion on your chest and underarms on the day of the mammogram, as these substances can interfere with the imaging.

A mammography technologist will position you in front of the mammography machine. Your breast will be placed on a flat platform and compressed gently between two plates. Compression helps spread out the breast tissue for clearer images and reduces the amount of radiation needed. They will take images of your breast from different angles, typically capturing images of each breast from top to bottom and side to side.

The process will be repeated for the other breast to ensure both breasts are thoroughly examined.

Learn more about mammograms and other breast care services provided by Texas Health:

Bone Density Scans

Bone density scans, also called DXA or DEXA scans, measure the strength and density of your bones. They are used to diagnose and monitor osteoporosis, a condition where bones become weak and brittle.

When to Start and How Often:

The current guidelines recommend:

  • Women over age 65 should get a bone density scan.
  • Postmenopausal women under 65 with risk factors for osteoporosis should also be screened.

Risk factors include:

  • Age (especially after menopause)
  • Menopause
  • Family history of osteoporosis or fractures
  • Personal history of fractures
  • Low body weight or BMI
  • Inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake
  • Lack of weight-bearing exercise
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Long-term use of certain medications (e.g., corticosteroids)
  • Medical conditions (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Ethnicity (Caucasian and Asian women at higher risk)
What to Expect:

Bone density scans are painless, quick procedures that use low-dose X-rays. Most of the time, your appointment will be over in less than 30 minutes.

Before your bone density scan:

  • No special diet needed. Just stick to your regular eating and drinking habits.
  • Don't take any vitamins, calcium supplements, or other mineral supplements for 24 hours before your test.
  • Choose clothes without metal, like zippers, underwire bras, belts, or jewelry, to make the test more comfortable.
  • Don't forget to bring your photo ID and insurance card to your appointment.
  • Make sure it's been at least 3-4 days since you had any contrast studies done.

During a bone density scan:

  • You will lie on a padded table while a scanning arm passes over your lower spine and hip, or over your wrist, fingers, leg or heel — all areas prone to fractures.
  • The procedure is painless and typically takes 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the areas being scanned.
  • You may need to wear loose, comfortable clothing and remove metal objects that could interfere with the scan.

Blood Tests

Blood tests are a simple, routine part of preventive care. They allow doctors to identify issues early, before symptoms appear, so treatment can begin promptly. Regular blood tests, typically performed at your annual exam, can screen for a variety of conditions, including:

  • High blood pressure: The CDC recommends every year to two years, while the National Institutes of Health allows for testing less frequently (3-5 years) for everyone; BP should be checked annually if the top (systolic) number is higher than 120 and/or the lower (diastolic) number is higher than 80 or you have other risk factors (heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, etc.)
  • High cholesterol: Every five years starting between the ages of 20 and 45 (talk to your doctor about when you should start); retest if lifestyle changes occur such as weight gain or a change in diet; more frequent testing may be necessary if you have risk factors or have heart disease, diabetes or kidney problems.
  • Diabetes: Women with a history of gestational diabetes should be screened for type 2 diabetes every 3 years. Women ages 45+ or those with no history of gestational diabetes should be screened every three years, or more often if you are overweight and/or have a high BMI or family history of diabetes.
  • HIV: All adults should be screened for HIV at least once, with more frequent screening for those at higher risk.

Additional Cancer Screening

Cancer screening plays a crucial role in early detection, which can significantly improve treatment outcomes and survival rates. For women, several common cancers have established screening guidelines based on age and risk factors.

Colorectal cancer: All women should be screened regularly until age 75, with the frequency depending on the type of screening (colonoscopies may be done every 10 years, while other tests may need to be done more often).

Lung cancer: Women up to age 80 with a 30-pack/year smoking history and who either currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years should be screened with low-dose computed tomography.

Skin cancer: Women at high risk for skin cancer (previous skin cancer, close family history or a weakened immune system) or who notice any changes should be checked for abnormalities.

The Takeaway

For women everywhere, the journey to health empowerment begins with understanding the significance of preventive health screenings. These screenings aren't just routine appointments; they're proactive measures that put you in control of your own well-being and future.

As you navigate the various roles in your life — as a caregiver, a professional, a nurturer — it's easy to put your own health on the back burner. Yet, prioritizing your well-being through preventive screenings not only enriches your life but also sets a powerful example for others.

Open communication with your health care provider is key. Don't hesitate to ask questions, voice concerns, or seek clarification about recommended screenings. You are the expert on your own body, and your voice matters in your healthcare decisions.

Make a commitment to yourself to schedule those screenings and follow through on them. Whether it's a mammogram, Pap smear, or any other recommended test, byprioritizing preventive health screenings, you can take proactive steps toward maintaining your well-being and reducing your risk of serious health conditions.

Staying on top of your health is not only important to you, it’s also important to us. If you are looking for a doctor, Texas Health Resources offers an easy-to-use tool. Simply choose the specialty, type in your zip code and select a range. Once a list of physicians appears, you can click on a physician and access contact information, education background and a list of insurance plans the doctor accepts.

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