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The Importance of Health Screenings for Women

Wellness visits provide healthcare providers the opportunity to counsel women on the recommended screenings, physical examinations and vaccinations based on age and risk factors. Topics of conversation at these visits vary, but vital signs (including height, weight, blood pressure and heart rate) and an appropriate physical examination are usually performed.

Ages 13-18

Most pediatricians see young teens for their wellness visits. Administering vaccines that are age appropriate, including the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine, or discussing birth control options for the management of heavy, painful periods or to prevent pregnancy are often managed by an OBGYN. Testing for sexually transmitted infections including gonorrhea and chlamydia is important as well.

Young teens should be screening for alcohol/drug use and counseled on healthy, safe behaviors such as wearing seat belts, not texting while driving, and using condoms.

Starting good habits early is always best!


Ages 19-39

Pap smear testing will begin at age 21 for most healthy women. Many women are anxious about the first pap test. Your provider will be able to explain this exam to you in detail to help alleviate some of the fears. Many women report only mild discomfort with the exam.

Sexually transmitted infection testing and discussion regarding genetic testing for women trying to get pregnant is also important at this age. This may include testing for cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy, and other inherited diseases.

Immunizations such as the flu vaccine and tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis booster (every 5-10 years) will be offered.

We will usually begin clinical breast exams in women in the mid 20s and later.

Ages 40-64

Mammogram screening usually begins around age 40. The timing and frequency varies according to many national groups, however most women will start around age 40 and have follow up tests every 1-2 years. Improved technologies, including 3D mammograms and MRI, are available and useful for women with dense breast tissue or those that have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Cholesterol screening should be offered every 5 years starting at age 45. Diabetes screening is recommended around this time as well. Many family medicine and internal medicine doctors will screen more often for the diseases depending on your risk factors, which may include family history, medications, or obesity for example.

Colon cancer screening usually begins around age 50. There are many screening options available. The gold standard is to have colonoscopy every 10 years, but again your risk factors many change the frequency of this testing.


Women 65 and older

In addition to the above tests, screening for osteoporosis usually will begin around age 65. The test most commonly used in called a DEXA screen. This test is a special X-ray that measures the density of the bones. Many diseases and genetics and influence the density of the bones. You may be offered certain medications, supplements or exercise regimens at these visits to help maintain good bone health.

Don’t Avoid Health Screenings!

Many women may put off these tests for the fear of “finding something bad”. By talking with your healthcare provider about these concerns, you may find that these screening tests provide some peace of mind when they return normal.

Of course, when a test, such as a mammogram, returns abnormal, women fear the worst. These tests are usually screening examinations, meaning they are not diagnostic, and additional tests are usually performed to evaluate abnormalities.

By coming in for routine check-ups at regular intervals, you may be able to identify problems early and help form a treatment plan that can help prevent disease.

About Chantel Roedner, MD

Dr. Chantel Roedner joined WakeMed Physician Practices as an OB/GYN after completing her residency at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earning her medical degree at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Her clinical interests include high risk obstetrics, infertility, minimally invasive gynecological surgery including robotic surgery, well woman care and contraception.