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4 Screening Tests Every Woman Must Have. Doing So Might Save Your Life

Back-to-school time isn’t just for kids and college students. The back-to-school ritual can also be good for your health.

Labor Day is over, and September is a great time to think about scheduling your preventive screenings. Have you scheduled your mammogram for the year? If you need it, have you scheduled your pap smear? What about that bone density test or colonoscopy? Various organizations, including the United States Preventive Task Force and the American Cancer Society, publish guidelines recommending when you should get screened.

Here's a basic rundown, though always be sure to check with your own physician. Depending on your own personal medical history, the guidelines may vary!

Breast Cancer

The rule of thumb is to be screened annually between the ages of 50 - 70. Where it gets a bit tricky is what to do when you're between 40 - 50. Some organizations suggest annually, some biannually and some suggest waiting until your 50th birthday. While the jury may be out on this one, be sure to speak with your physician so that you can get screened when it's appropriate for you. This is especially important if you have a family history of breast cancer, or if you have had a breast biopsy in the past.

Cervical Cancer

With recent new knowledge about HPV (human papilloma virus - the virus that causes cervical cancer), the guidelines have changed for cervical cancer screening. It's no longer necessary to have an annual pap smear if you are also screened for HPV. Be sure to check with your physician's office to see if they do this test simultaneously. If they do, depending on your results, you may be able to go every two or three years instead. Again, there are exceptions to the rule, especially if you have a history of abnormal pap smears or a positive family history of cervical cancer. And, depending on your age, you may also be a candidate for the new vaccine for cervical cancer. Be sure to ask your physician if you are 26 or younger, and haven't yet been vaccinated.


Calcium and vitamin D are your friends. Be sure that you are getting your recommended dose of both every day! In addition, all women over the age of 60 need a bone densitometry (DEXA is easier to say) scan to look at our bones. This very simple x-ray is fast and painless, and shows you and your physician how healthy your bones are. The results of this x-ray will help to determine when you need to undergo subsequent screenings. As with all tests, the timing may vary and some women need to have a DEXA at an earlier age. Family history, certain medications and medical history, for example, help to determine when to start screening.

Colon Cancer

Again, the recommended age to begin colon cancer screening is age 50 for most women. The three most common screening methods are the colonoscopy, the sigmoidoscopy and the fecal occult blood test (otherwise known as checking a stool sample for blood). The test you have, and the results of that test, will help to determine when you will need to be screened again. And once again, family history of colon cancer and your own medical history will help to guide when to start screening.

Undergoing these preventive screenings is one way to prevent disease. Eating a diet filled with lots of fruits and vegetables also helps to lower your risk for the disease listed here. Furthermore, when you finish reading this, get up and move. People who exercise are generally healthier. And finally, breathe a sigh of relief. You are taking one more step to managing your health, your life, and this is a great way to reduce stress in your life.

Dr. Elizabeth Ricanati is the mother of three children and founding medical director of The Cleveland Clinic's LifeStyle 180 program. She is a regular columnist for ShareWIK.com.

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