Women’s Health Screenings: When, Why, and How often?


By Elizabeth Atchason, FNP

Sifting Through the Research

Our health is very important to us, and staying healthy not only means keeping on top of our current health conditions, but preventing new ones! Besides living a healthy lifestyle, preventative screenings are some of the best ways to catch a disease or illness early, greatly improving remission or recovery of that disease.

Specifically in the Women’s Health field, there are certain screening tests that have been developed over the years, including gynecological pelvic exams, pap smears, manual breast exams, mammograms, colonoscopies, and bone density screenings. There is ongoing research to determine at what age and how often the tests would be helpful and necessary in detecting diseases or cancer. These guidelines, however, can be very confusing for women because there may be differing information – from online organizations, advice from their physician or practitioner, or even guidelines they may learn off of a commercial on TV. Because we are learning more and more every few years from updated research, the guidelines frequently change, and there are certain organizations that may have differences in their recommendations.

Ironing Out the Differences

On Facebook Live this week, I talked about the most up-to-date guidelines in Women’s Health screenings. We discussed the differences in recommendations, especially in regards to mammograms, from the US Task Force, ACOG, and the American Cancer Society. Below I have provided links that present the most recent guidelines in an easy-to-read format.

Discuss With Your Physician

Of course, it is extremely important to discuss these guidelines with your personal physician or practitioner and decide how best to apply them to your health. There are many patients that have health risk factors and should be screened more often, and developing a clear screening plan with your physician or practitioner is very important.

Prevention is Priority

Keeping up with that plan is also critical to screen for and catch certain diseases or cancers early. Disease prevention is the first step – women should take care of their health by eating healthy, exercising, trying to keep a healthy weight, lowering stress, and getting good sleep. The next step is keeping up with your Women’s Health screenings and identifying health conditions or cancer early so that if something is found, you have the best chance for remission and recovery.

Women’s Health Resources

General Guidelines

  • See links for specifics and guidelines for high risk patient groups. Of course, this should be discussed with the patient’s clinician to decide what is best for them individually.

Pap Smear Guidelines

  • Start age 21 then repeat every 3 years. At age 30 can elect to have HPV test and if negative then pap smear every 5 years until age 65. If HPV test not done then continue pap smear every 3 years.


  • Baseline between 35 and 39, then yearly at age 40 and after.

Dexa Scan (Bone Density)

  • 0ne time at age 65 years old. Repeat in 5 years. May need one earlier based on early menopause, small frame, family history etc.

American Cancer Society Pap Smear Guidelines

High Risk Cervical Cancer Screening

Mammogram Screening Guideline Chart

3D Mammography

Thermography (adjunctive testing to mammogram)

High Risk Breast Cancer Screening Questionnaire

High Risk Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines

Bone Density Screening