Written by Karen Asp

If you’re a woman in your 40s, your family and career demands might be intense. But when it comes to your physical health, medical issues probably aren’t a constant source of worry.

Yet to stay as healthy as possible and catch conditions early when they’re more likely to be treatable, it’s important to stay on top of your preventive screenings. They’re your window into critical markers that can signal trouble. Your first step: Keep your annual appointment with your health care provider — or make that appointment, if you haven’t yet. Then talk with your provider about which screenings are right for you.[1] Here are six tests that may be recommended, as well as screenings you can perform at home with LetsGetChecked women’s health tests.


Critical Test #1: Mammogram


Why? A woman in the U.S. has a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer sometime in her life,[2] but when it’s caught early with this breast X-ray, it can usually be treated.[3] “Breast cancer is a real threat to women, and it’s why lifesaving mammography is so important,” says Mimi Secor, D.N.P., a board-certified family nurse practitioner and senior faculty with Advanced Practice Education Associates in Lafayette, Louisiana. [4; 5]

When? The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends getting your first mammogram at age 45 and repeating it every year until age 55, after which the recommendation drops to every two years.[4; 6] But if you and your provider decide that earlier screening may make sense, you might begin your mammograms between 40 and 44 years old. [4]


Critical Test #2: Cervical Cancer Screening (HPV and/or Pap tests)


Why? Thanks to the Pap test, cervical cancer is no longer one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women.[7] The reason: This screening can detect changes in cervical cells that suggest cancer may develop in the future.[7.5] Yet cervical cancer is still a concern: The ACS notes that nearly 15,000 cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in 2021.[7]

Recently, the type of test used to screen for cervical cancer has changed. The Pap test is being phased out because research suggests that testing for HPV (human papillomavirus) is more effective at detecting cervical cancer and precancer.[4; 8; 9]

In July 2020, the ACS updated its guidelines and now recommends the HPV test as the primary test for cervical cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved certain tests to be primary HPV tests, while others are approved only as part of a co-test when the HPV test and Pap test are done at the same time. A primary HPV test may not be an option everywhere at this time, so a co-test or a Pap test are still good options.[8; 9]

When? It’s now recommended that screenings start at age 25. (The new 2020 ACS guidelines phase-out screening from age 21 to 24.) If your results are negative, you should repeat the HPV test every five years through age 65, Dr. Secor says. Co-testing is also recommended every five years, and Pap every three years.[4; 9]

Related article: 50% of Cancer Screening Happens Too Late


Critical Test #3: Hemoglobin A1C Test for Diabetes


Why? More than 34 million Americans — a quarter of them older adults — have type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.[10] Left untreated, diabetes can damage blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves, and even lead to heart disease or stroke.[11] Diabetes was the seventh leading cause of U.S. death in 2017.[10] What’s more, recent data reveals that people with diabetes who contract COVID-19 tend to experience more severe symptoms, making the need to diagnose and treat diabetes more crucial than ever.[12]

By checking your blood sugar levels, these tests can indicate whether you have diabetes or prediabetes. One in three Americans does — and most don’t know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.[13] But here’s the good news: With lifestyle tweaks, you can work to reverse prediabetes.[14; 15] “Diabetes is a modifiable risk factor in the fight against heart disease and stroke,”[14; 16] says Robert Cole, M.D., an intensive care unit physician in Camden, New Jersey, and the author of How to Build a Smile.[14; 17]

When? Age is a major risk factor for diabetes. If you’re between 40 and 70, you should be screened for diabetes at your annual wellness visit with your provider. If your results are normal, test again in three years, Dr. Cole says. However, if you’re given a “borderline” diagnosis, you should be retested every one to two years. [14; 18]

Check for diabetes and prediabetes at home now


Critical Test #4: Blood Pressure Screening


Why? Blood pressure that’s chronically elevated (also known as hypertension) causes your heart to pump harder. That can lead to damage to every organ system in your body and, like diabetes, significantly increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, Dr. Cole says. [14; 19]

When? Your first blood pressure check (done with an arm monitor) was probably around age 18; it should be repeated every year, Dr. Cole says. If your blood pressure is high, or if you have other risk factors, such as diabetes or obesity, you’ll be asked to recheck every six months.[14; 20] Lifestyle tweaks, sometimes along with medication, can help prevent dangerous health consequences of hypertension.[14; 19]


Critical Test #5: Colorectal Screening


Why? Colorectal cancer, sometimes called bowel cancer, is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.[21] It usually starts before you notice symptoms, with abnormal growths called polyps in your colon or rectum. Screenings can detect this cancer early, while it’s still highly treatable.[22] Your choices include an at-home test (which is convenient, noninvasive, and comes with medical support to guide you), a colonoscopy (the gold standard),[4], or a flexible sigmoidoscopy.[22; 23] Your provider can help you decide which option is right for you.

When? About 90 percent of new cases occur in people age 50 and older.[22] However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends starting colorectal screening at age 45 (versus 50 previously), Dr. Secor says.[4; 23; 29] You should get screened sooner if a close relative has had colorectal cancer, or if you have an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.[22] Follow up with tests at regular intervals until you’re 75. The frequency depends on the kind of screening and your risk factors.[22; 23] You can screen for colon cancer with this at-home test

Here are the suggested timelines:

  • At-home tests: every year
  • Colonoscopy: every 10 years
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: every five years[22; 23]

Related articles: 5 Simple Steps You Can Take Now to Help Prevent Colon Cancer


Critical Test #6: Coronary Artery Calcium Score


Why? An unhealthy diet (one that’s too high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar) as well as smoking, can cause a buildup of plaque in your arteries. And the more plaque you have, the higher your risk of heart attack or stroke,[24; 25] says Joel Kahn, M.D., founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity in Bingham Farms, Michigan, and the author of Lipoprotein(a), The Heart’s Quiet Killer. [25; 26; 27]

When? Dr. Kahn recommends getting your first coronary artery calcium score, a specialized X-ray test that you’ll need to request from your provider,[28] at 45.[25] If your result is normal, you can wait another five to 10 years before checking again. [25]


References


1 U.S. National Library of Medicine
Medline Plus
Health screenings for women ages 40 to 64
https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007467.htm

2 American Cancer Society
How Common Is Breast Cancer?
https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/about/how-common-is-breast-cancer.html#:~:text=Breast cancer is the most,she will develop breast cancer.

3 American Cancer Society
Mammogram Basics
https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/screening-tests-and-early-detection/mammograms/mammogram-basics.html

4 Dr. Mimi Secor

5 Dr. Mimi Secor
About Dr. Mimi
https://www.mimisecor.com/about-mimi

6 American Cancer Society
American Cancer Society Recommendations for the Early Detection of Breast Cancer
https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/screening-tests-and-early-detection/american-cancer-society-recommendations-for-the-early-detection-of-breast-cancer.html

7 American Cancer Society
Key Statistics for Cervical Cancer
https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/about/key-statistics.html

7.5 Mayo Clinic
https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pap-smear/about/pac-20394841

8 American Cancer Society
The HPV Test
https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/screening-tests/hpv-test.html

9 Fontham ETH, et al.
Cervical cancer screening for individuals at average risk: 2020 guideline update from the American Cancer Society
CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 2020 Sep;70(5):321-346

10 American Diabetes Association
Statistics About Diabetes
Overall numbers
https://www.diabetes.org/resources/statistics/statistics-about-diabetes

  1. American Diabetes Association
    Complications
    https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/complications

  2. American Diabetes Association
    How COVID-19 Impacts People with Diabetes
    https://www.diabetes.org/coronavirus-covid-19/how-coronavirus-impacts-people-with-diabetes

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020
    https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/diabetes-stat-report.html

  4. Dr. Robert Cole

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Prediabetes - Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
    https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/prediabetes.html

  6. American Heart Association
    Understand Your Risks to Prevent a Heart Attack
    https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/understand-your-risks-to-prevent-a-heart-attack

  7. Robert Cole
    https://www.robertmcolemd.com/?gclid=Cj0KCQiA0-6ABhDMARIsAFVdQv8ARaXzr1_oIt3TuOysp4L6_TypS0L_EfFQFlVv9e1h7zqjTh4FWGoaAoFpEALw_wcB

  8. U.S. National Library of Medicine
    National Center for Biotechnology Information
    Diabetes Mellitus Screening
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554615/

  9. Cleveland Clinic
    Health Essentials
    Why Chronic High Blood Pressure Is So Dangerous
    https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-chronic-high-blood-pressure-is-so-dangerous/

  10. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
    Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
    MyHealthfinder
    Get Your Blood Pressure Checked
    https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/doctor-visits/screening-tests/get-your-blood-pressure-checked#:~:text=How often do I need,every 3 to 5 years.

  11. American Cancer Society
    Key Statistics for Colorectal Cancer
    https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/about/key-statistics.html

  12. American Cancer Society
    Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figures 2020-2022
    https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/colorectal-cancer-facts-and-figures/colorectal-cancer-facts-and-figures-2020-2022.pdf

  13. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
    Colorectal Cancer: Screening
    https://uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/draft-recommendation/colorectal-cancer-screening3#:~:text=In the current draft recommendation,years (B grade recommendation).

  14. National Institutes of Health
    National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
    Atherosclerosis
    https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/atherosclerosis

  15. Dr. Joel Kahn

  16. Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity
    https://www.kahnlongevitycenter.com/

  17. Dr. Joel Kahn
    Lipoprotein(A), The Heart’s Quiet Killer: A Diet & Lifestyle Guide
    https://www.drjoelkahn.com/product/lipoproteina-the-hearts-quiet-killer-a-diet-lifestyle-guide/

  18. Mayo Clinic
    Heart scan (coronary calcium scan)
    https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/atherosclerosis

  19. USPSTF colon cancer screening new draft recommendation
    https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langas/article/PIIS2468-1253(20)30361-7/fulltext

  20. Dr. Joel Kahn

  21. Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity
    https://www.kahnlongevitycenter.com/

  22. Dr. Joel Kahn
    Lipoprotein(A), The Heart’s Quiet Killer: A Diet & Lifestyle Guide
    https://www.drjoelkahn.com/product/lipoproteina-the-hearts-quiet-killer-a-diet-lifestyle-guide/