22 Medical Tests Every Woman Should Have and When

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6. Pelvic exam
> When to get tested: Every year

A pelvic exam involves a visual and physical check of a woman’s reproductive organs and is performed before, during, and after menopause. A pelvic exam is also performed to detect any possible signs of ovarian cysts, sexually transmitted infections, or uterine fibroids, which are noncancerous growths of the uterus.

The exam is crucial to women because the risk of ovarian cancer increases as they grow older. Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of all cancer deaths among women in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. The organization estimates that about 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2020, and nearly 14,000 will die from it.

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7. Breast self-exam
> When to get tested: Early 20s

In recent years, studies have shown a weak connection between self-examination and detecting breast cancer. Self-examination, therefore, is no longer recommended as part of formal screening for breast cancer. However, self-screening still has a purpose. It’s important for women to know how their breasts usually look and feel, so they are more likely to notice changes early on.

The death rates from breast cancer among women are higher than for any other cancer, except lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

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8. Lipid panel test
> When to get tested: At 45, or sooner if you are at risk for heart disease

A lipid panel measures fats and fatty substances, including triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) “good” cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) “bad” cholesterol. Lipid disorders such as high cholesterol, which has no symptoms, increase the risk for coronary artery disease, heart attack, or stroke, all of which can be fatal.

The American Heart Association recommends that everyone over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol checked every four to six years. More frequent testing may be needed for people who are at higher risk for developing heart disease, including those who are overweight, have diabetes, smoke, and are physically inactive. Women between 55 and 65 should take a lipid test, which is a blood test, at least every two years as their LDL cholesterol levels tend to rise after menopause.

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9. Vitamin D deficiency
> When to get tested: Women at risk for deficiency

Vitamin D levels are checked with a simple blood test that can be part of a routine medical exam. People need the “sunshine vitamin” – the body produces vitamin D when the sun’s ultraviolet rays come in contact with the skin — to absorb calcium and sustain strong bones. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to several cancers, heart disease, depression, muscle pain, diabetes, and infections.

People with dark skin are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency as the darker the skin needs to absorb more sun to produce enough vitamin D than lighter skin. People with Crohn’s disease or celiac disease are at higher risk, too. They can prevent the body from absorbing vitamin D by interfering with how fat is processed.

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10. Estrogen levels
> When to get tested: If having trouble getting pregnant

Estrogen tests, which measure the level of the estrogen — the primary female sex hormone — in the blood or urine, help doctors detect fetal birth defects, diagnose menstrual problems, and check for tumors of the ovaries, particularly in young girls and older women. Estrogen level screenings are also used to monitor fertility treatments.

An estrogen test is recommended for women who are having trouble getting pregnant, who are missing or having abnormal periods, or who are experiencing menopause symptoms.