Health Screenings for Women in Their 30s
For women in their 30s, the news when it comes to health is generally good: The risk of serious illness is low, and there’s a lot you can do now to increase your chances of staying healthy and happy for years to come.
Step one is simple but often overlooked: Schedule a physical with your primary healthcare provider. Planning a Pap test and pelvic exam with your ob/gyn is not enough. (And might not be necessary, but more on that later.)
A primary healthcare provider–such as a family doctor, internal medicine physician or nurse practitioner–considers your health in the context of the big picture. He or she can assess your overall health, help you identify risk factors and make individualized recommendations for health screenings and preventive care based on that information.
According to the National Institutes of Health, it’s not necessary to undergo a complete physical exam every year. Instead, the NIH recommends two complete physicals in the years between ages 20 and 39.
Other screenings you should consider include:
Blood pressure screening. Want to decrease your risk of death or disability from heart disease, stroke and kidney failure? Get your blood pressure checked. Experts recommend you have your blood pressure tested at least every two years. But if you have diabetes or heart disease (or a family history of diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure), follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations regarding the frequency of blood pressure screening.
Pap smear and pelvic exam. Pap smears and pelvic exams are both used to screen for cervical cancer, a usually slow-growing cancer that is almost always caused by HPV infection. In years past, doctors used to recommend yearly Pap smears. But recent research has shown that most women don’t need an annual Pap. You only need a Pap smear every three years, or every five years if you combine it with the HPV test. You can have the HPV test alone as well, but, like the Pap smear, the doctor collects cells from the cervix. Women who have had a total hysterectomy do not need to have either test.
Cholesterol screening. If you’re at high risk for heart disease–if you have a family history of heart disease, have diabetes, smoke tobacco and/or are overweight–it’s a good idea to have your cholesterol levels checked with a blood test. If you’re not at increased risk, you don’t need your cholesterol checked until you’re 45.
Diabetes screening. Most people do not need to undergo diabetes screening. But if your blood pressure is greater than 135/80 or your body mass index is over 25 and you have other risk factors for diabetes (such as a family history), you will likely have your fasting blood glucose level checked with a simple blood test. If your fasting blood glucose level is elevated, your doctor may order additional tests to check for the presence of diabetes.
Breast cancer screening. Most women in their 30s do not need mammograms. However, if you have a family history of breast cancer or a known genetic mutation that puts you at increased risk of developing breast cancer, your healthcare provider may recommend a mammogram, MRI scan or ultrasound to screen for breast cancer. Breast self-exam can be done, but is no longer recommended as a means of self-screening because evidence shows it doesn’t reduce the risk of death from breast cancer. However, if you notice a change in the look or feel of your breasts, you should absolutely report it to your healthcare provider. Women in their 30s should also have a clinical breast exam performed by a doctor or nurse every three years.
STI screening. If you’re in a committed, stable, monogamous relationship, your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection is low. If you have more than one sex partner, though, or have had a sexually transmitted infection in the last year, you should be screened for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Experts also recommend HIV screening for all adults up through the age of 65.
Skin cancer screening. The American Cancer Society recommends periodic comprehensive skin exams to screen for skin cancer. Your healthcare provider can incorporate this screening into a physical exam, or you can schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. If you have fair skin and received multiple sun burns before age 20, you should make this screening a priority.
The best screening program is one tailored to your health needs. Talk to your primary healthcare provider to determine which screenings and screening intervals are best for you.