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7 Health Screenings for Women

7 Health Screenings for Women

Al Waller: Preventative health care is one of the most critical routines to develop for long-term health, but many of us put routine health screenings on hold as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, 38% of women passed on routine check-ups and tests during the height of the pandemic, according to a 2021 Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

Welcome to ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & WealthSM. I'm your host, Al Waller. Joining me today is Mihaela Vincze, public health expert, for nonprofit Transamerica Institute, and she will be diving into a list of recommended health screenings for women's health.

Mihaela, it’s good to have you.

Mihaela Vincze: It's good to be back.

Al Waller: Before we jump in, why are health screenings so important?

Mihaela Vincze: Health screenings can find small yet meaningful changes in your health long before you experience any symptoms—and these measures can potentially prevent symptoms from even occurring through intervening early. If you're someone who hasn't kept up with routine medical appointments and health screenings, now is the time to schedule them.

Al Waller: That is crucial advice. One of my grandmothers, who was a registered nurse, was often fond of saying, “An ounce of prevention trumps a pound of cure” or something to that effect. But regardless, the underlying message here inherently supports this line of thinking. So, let's break things down starting with the types of screenings women should be looking to prioritize.

Mihaela Vincze: There are a few. I will go over a baseline list of preventative care screenings that are generally recommended. Remember that this list is not "all-encompassing" and is simply intended to inform. Ultimately, a discussion with your doctor or health care provider is recommended to determine which screenings are right for you.

Al Waller: You've got that right. Listening to your doctor is vital to know what screenings are right for you. So, let's begin with screenings for 18 to 39 years old. What is recommended for this age group?

Mihaela Vincze: I want to begin by saying that the screenings I'm going to cover are ones that you should begin in this age group but should continue later in life as well— but always check with your doctor.  

Al Waller: That makes sense—to keep getting routine health care, no matter your age. What is your first screening recommendation?

Mihaela Vincze: Physical Exam. Even if you think you're healthy, an annual physical exam is very important. During these exams, your doctor can screen for disease, assess your risk for health conditions that may arise in the future, and update your vaccinations. This is also a great opportunity to get to know your doctor and build a relationship with them.

Al Waller: Exactly – a trusting doctor relationship is invaluable. I've been pretty fortunate to have maintained one over the years, where we were able to establish an easy rapport – upfront, allowing for good, open, honest, and sensitive communication, which includes the fact that she's a really good listener.

While I'm polishing her halo, I've been grateful to have a doctor that also keeps current and possesses an acute awareness of the medical trends and issues of the day.

Just a final thought… As we age, we might want to consider a medical practice that possesses some bench strength in the eventual retirement of your doctor because this will aid in ensuring a smooth transition in selecting your next primary care doctor.

To this point, I recently had conversations with friends lamenting over the fact that their doctor, who they've been with for years, was retiring…and they were left scrambling. Let's face it – it's not a comfortable position to find yourself looking for a doctor that you have faith and trust in.

So now, Mihaela, what other types of screenings should women be pursuing?

Mihaela Vincze: A smooth transition is indeed important in ensuring that you keep up with those preventative screenings.

The next screening I would like to address is Skin Cancer Screening.Skin cancer screenings are important because when abnormalities in the tissue are found early, it may be easier to treat.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, it is recommended that women perform self-exams regularly to check for new spots, changes in existing spots, or anything that looks unusual or suspicious on their skin. Providers may check for skin cancer annually, especially for those who are high risk.

Al Waller: Yes, it's essential for those at high risk to have skin cancer screenings more frequently. As we pointed out in the past, avoid prolonged exposure to the sun and ultraviolet rays. I mentioned in a previous episode that a number of my peers (male and female) are unfortunately confronting some of that fallout, which includes a few serious cases of skin cancer.

Moving on with the topic of screenings – what else do you have for us for the 18-39 group?

Mihaela Vincze: I am sorry to hear about your peers, Al.

But yes, moving to the next screening I have for the 18-39 group is Blood Pressure.Blood pressure readings are important, so that you can have a good idea about your risk for conditions such as heart disease and stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, blood pressure should be checked every three to five years. However, it should be checked annually for some women depending on their risk factors.

Al Waller: Another good point and on a personal note, I discovered my blood pressure was suddenly way out of control. Fortunately, my doctor advised me well, and with some diet and exercise modifications, along with a low dosage of medication, I feel much better now. And she gives me that proverbial ‘gold star’ at my annual checkup – that's a good thing.

Now, what other testing recommendations have you got for us?

Mihaela Vincze: Lipid profile. A lipid profile is a group of tests that measure the amount of fats and cholesterol in your blood. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, these fats are important for the health of our cells, but they can be harmful when they build up in the blood. Women who are 20 years old can begin to have regular lipid profile screenings if they have risk factors for coronary heart disease, according to Harvard Medical School. However, women with no known risk factors for coronary heart disease can begin at age 45.

Al Waller: It sounds like these are all important screenings to take advantage of to ensure we stay healthier for longer. What about screenings for women who are between 40 and 64 years of age?

Mihaela Vincze: Breast Cancer Screening. A mammogram is the most effective way to find breast cancer early, and when it's the easiest to treat, according to the CDC. Women can have their first mammogram between 40 and 50 with the guidance of their doctor.

However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends beginning at 50 and repeating the test every 1 to 2 years until 75 for women with an average risk factor for breast cancer.

Screening for colon cancer can detect precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they become cancerous. According to the US Preventative Services Task Force, these screenings should begin at age 45. Normal colonoscopies should be repeated every 10 years, whereas normal stool screenings should be repeated annually.

Al Waller: It is far better to prevent disease than to treat people after they get sick. Are there any screenings for those ages 65 plus?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes. For this age group, an osteoporosis screeningis recommended. The tests are important because they can warn you about issues with your bones before you experience a fracture. The US Preventative Services Task Forces recommend that women who are 65 have their first bone density scan, a.k.a their first DEXA bone screening for osteoporosis, which should be repeated as determined by their physician. However, postmenopausal women under 65 with certain risk factors may receive an osteoporosis screening earlier.

Al Waller: Thank you, Mihaela, for informing us about the preventative services and screenings women should prioritize for their health, such as physical exams, skin cancer screenings, blood pressure readings, lipid profile screenings, colon cancer screenings, and lastly, osteoporosis screenings. Remember to ask your doctor what will be best for you and your health. Mihaela, where can listeners go to learn more?

Mihaela Vincze: Always talk to your doctor about which screenings you're due for. If you'd like to know what screenings are out there, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is a good resource to turn to for evidence-based recommendations about screenings.

Al Waller: Thank you, Mihaela.

If you’d like to check out any of the source materials mentioned today, visit transamericainstitute.org/podcast to review the episode’s transcript.

If you have comments, feedback, or topic ideas, please reach out to [email protected]. Don’t forget to hit that subscribe button so that you don’t miss an episode of ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth.

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be well and thanks for listening.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about health and wellness, employment, financial literacy, longevity, and retirement.

You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org/podcast.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Mihaela Vincze is a public health expert and experienced health care educator. Serving as Transamerica Institute’s health care content developer, she shares insights on health and wellness on ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. Mihaela earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health at California State University, Northridge.