9 Preventive Health Screenings Doctors Recommend for Females

Medically Reviewed By Avi Varma, MD, MPH, AAHIVS, FAAFP

Routine health screenings for females include checks for heart disease, vision changes, and certain types of cancer. These tests can help detect serious conditions at their earliest and most treatable stages. The specific types of screenings your doctor recommends may vary based on your age, family history, and risk factors. Certain screenings apply specifically to people assigned female at birth. These may include cisgender women, transgender men, or people who are gender non-conforming.

Health insurance may cover the cost of many preventive screenings. Marketplace plans under the Affordable Care Act must cover a range of preventive care services. Contact your insurance provider for details about your coverage.

This article provides a list of routine health screenings recommended for females. Talk with your physician about all of the health screenings that are right for you.

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article uses the terms “female” and “women” when discussing people assigned female at birth to reflect language that appears in source materials.

Learn more about the difference between sex and gender.

1. Colon cancer screening

Regular screening for colon cancer via a colonoscopy is recommended as early as age 45. This is according to guidance from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).

The American Cancer Society (ACS) Trusted Source American Cancer Society Highly respected international organization Go to source also recommends routine colorectal cancer screening starting at age 45. This can include colonoscopy or stool-based tests.

A 2018 study found that undergoing a screening colonoscopy reduces the risk of dying from colorectal cancer by 67% Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source .

The length of time between screenings depends on the type of testing you use. Your doctor can advise on the right screening schedule for you.

Learn more about what to expect during a colonoscopy.

Infographic of 9 routine health screenings for females
Design by Diego Sabogal. Infographic by Mekhi Baldwin.

2. Breast cancer screening

The USPSTF published guidance in 2016 that recommends breast cancer screening mammograms every two years for females ages 50–75.

The ACS Trusted Source American Cancer Society Highly respected international organization Go to source recommends yearly mammograms for females from ages 45–54.

However, mammograms for females in their 40s may result in false positives. These can lead to unnecessary treatment for very early stage breast cancers. This warning comes from both the USPSTF and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Even so, the ACOG still recommends that physicians offer screening mammograms to females with average breast cancer risk starting at age 40. They also advise doctors to provide information about potential benefits and risks of mammography before age 50.

Talk with your OB-GYN about your individual breast cancer risk and the right mammogram schedule for you.

Learn more about what happens during a mammogram.

3. Cervical cancer screening

Two types of tests can help detect or prevent cervical cancer: a Pap test and a high-risk human papillomavirus (hrHPV) test.

During a Pap test, or Pap smear, a gynecologist collects a sample of cervical cells. They then use these to test for cancer or changes that could become cancerous.

An hrHPV test looks for infection caused by HPV strains that are associated with cervical cancer.

Both the USPSTF and ACOG outline the following cervical cancer recommendations for people with cervixes:

  • Younger than 21: No screening is recommended.
  • Ages 21–29: A Pap test is recommended every 3 years.
  • Ages 30–65: A Pap test is recommended every 3 years and an hrHPV test every 5 years, or a combined Pap test and hrHPV test every 5 years.
  • Older than 65: No screening is recommended if the person had previous screening and is not at high risk for cervical cancer.
  • People who have had a hysterectomy: No screening is recommended if the cervix was removed and the person does not have a history of serious cervical lesions or cervical cancer.

Talk with your OB-GYN about what types of cervical cancer screening are right for your individual risk factors.

Learn more about cervical cancer diagnosis.

4. Skin cancer screening

There are no formal recommendations regarding skin cancer screening exams. However, because early detection makes it easier to treat skin cancer, dermatologists recommend routine skin self-checks.

A skin self-exam involves looking at all areas of your body for changes in your skin. These may include new moles or moles that have changed in shape, size, or color.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends these steps as part of a skin self-exam:

  • Look at your body in a full-length mirror. Check your front, back, and right and left sides.
  • Check your arms carefully, including your palms, forearms, and armpits.
  • Examine your legs and feet, including your soles and the areas between your toes.
  • Using a hand mirror, check the back of your neck, your back, and your buttocks.
  • Part your hair in a mirror to examine your scalp.

Contact a dermatologist if you spot any areas that concern you. This is particularly important if you have a family history of skin cancer or other skin cancer risk factors.

The AAD also offers free skin cancer screenings nationwide.

5. Bone density screening tests

The USPSTF recommends that all females age 65 and older receive screening for osteoporosis through bone measurement testing. Females younger than 65 with risk factors for osteoporosis should also undergo bone density testing.

Bone density is one factor doctors use to evaluate your risk of developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can weaken bones and make them more vulnerable to fracture, even during everyday activities.

The recommended test for measuring bone density is a type of bone x-ray called a DXA scan. This is also sometimes called a DEXA scan. However, doctors may use other tests to measure bone density. They may also use separate tools to determine someone’s risk for osteoporosis.

Learn more about DEXA scans.

6. Depression screening

The USPSTF makes a general recommendation that all adults older than 18 receive screening for depression.

This guidance is mainly to encourage primary care physicians to make depression screening part of their routine care. In some cases, there are reimbursement incentives for doctors to screen their patients for behavioral conditions, including depression.

Research from 2022 published in JAMA Trusted Source JAMA Peer reviewed journal Go to source indicates that universal depression screening helps identify and treat depression in people who may previously have been overlooked.

Groups at risk for depression who may benefit from screening include:

  • people assigned female at birth
  • People of Color
  • people living with chronic illnesses
  • people with a family history of psychiatric conditions
  • older adults who live with a disability, have health concerns, or are socially isolated
  • people who are pregnant or postpartum

Talk with a doctor or loved one if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression.

Help is available if you need it

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

  • Call 988 
  • Chat with the lifeline

This service is available 24/7.

7. Oral health screening

The American Dental Association does not provide specific guidelines for how often you should see a dentist.

However, they do suggest routine dental visits at least once or twice a year. Some people may need more frequent dental appointments.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source , routine dental visits can reduce the need for more extensive treatments. They can also lower the overall cost of dental care.

Dental exams also help screen for oral cancer.

8. Annual eye exam

A woman getting an eye exam
Photography by Tatjana Zlatkovic/Stocksy United Photography by AD Astra Team/Stocksy United

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends everyone receive a complete eye exam at age 40. This is when you may start having significant vision changes or develop early signs of eye disease.

People age 65 and older should receive routine eye exams every 2 years, according to the AAO. This is when age-related eye conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma can develop.

For people under age 40, the AAO only recommends occasional eye exams. However, you may need more frequent visits if you:

9. Heart disease screening tests

A range of tests can screen for risk factors that could increase your likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. These results do not necessarily mean you will experience heart disease. However, they can help you make medical or lifestyle choices to reduce your risk.

The American Heart Association Trusted Source American Heart Association Highly respected national organization Go to source lists screening tests that can identify heart disease risk factors, including:

  • blood pressure checks, recommended once a year
  • cholesterol tests, recommended every 4–6 years for average risk or more often for people with high risk
  • blood glucose testing, at least every 3 years
  • weight and body mass index (BMI), recommended during annual physicals

Additional screenings

Depending on factors including your age and medical history, your doctor may recommend additional screenings for conditions including:

Summary

Recommended preventive health screenings for females include mammograms for breast cancer, colonoscopy for colorectal cancer, and testing for cervical cancer. Routine eye exams, dental appointments, and heart disease risk factor tests are also important parts of female preventive care.

The types and frequency of screenings you may need can depend on factors including age and family history. Talk with your doctor about which screenings are right for you. They can advise on how often you will need them and the benefits and risks of each.

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Medical Reviewer: Avi Varma, MD, MPH, AAHIVS, FAAFP
Last Review Date: 2023 Apr 20
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.