9 Must-Have Health Tests for Women

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by: Lindsay Hutton
Hey mom, we know you're busy taking care of your family, but when was the last time you took the time to take care of yourself? Find out what health tests are most important, so you and your doctor can make sure you stay in tip-top shape for a long time to come.
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Cholesterol and Blood Pressure
High cholesterol and blood pressure can both be early indicators of heart disease. If you smoke, have a family history of high blood pressure or cholesterol, or diabetes, it is especially important to include these tests in your screenings.

A blood test can determine your LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and should be done starting in your 20's, and every year after if it is abnormal, or every five years if your reading is normal. Have your blood pressure checked every year if it's high, or every two years if it's at or below average.

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Pap Tests and HPV Testing
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women get their first Pap smear at the age of 21 or three years after they become sexually active, and to get one every other year until the age of 30. Women over 30 who have had three consecutive "normal" results can then get one once every three years.

This essential test helps to detect cervical cancer at an early stage, when the recovery rate is very high. Additionally, start getting tested for HPV when you are 30, and then with your Pap smear every three years. HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer, and many sexually active women contract this infection at some point. It is tested using an HPV DNA test, and can use the same specimen as the one taken for your Pap smear.

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Mammograms and Self Checks
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPTF), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, used to recommend that women start getting annual mammograms at the age of 40. That number has recently been bumped up to 50 in an effort to avoid aggressive and unnecessary testing on benign cysts often found in younger, denser breast tissue.

Some doctors are still abiding by the old guidelines until more studies prove that upping the age of getting tested doesn't result in more fatalities. No matter what age you start getting tested, ACOG recommends giving yourself monthly self exams to look for any lumps or bumps that weren't previously there. Visit cancer.org for a detailed guide on how to do a self exam.

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Skin Check
According to the American Melanoma Foundation (AMF), melanoma is the sixth most common cancer in women, and has been linked to excessive sun exposure as a child, particularly between the ages of 10 and 18. Just five sunburns in your lifetime doubles your risk of developing skin cancer, and the AMF reports that 80% of lifetime sun damage occurs during childhood.

Get checked annually, especially if you have a family history of skin cancer, and semi-annually if you've been treated for melanoma.

Additionally, conduct a self exam for any new or suspicious looking moles on your body. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using the ABCDEs of melanoma with instructions on what to look for and an illustrated document.

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Blood Sugar
According to the National Institutes of Health, over 40 million Americans have signs of pre-diabetes due to high blood sugar. Women should have their blood sugar tested once every three years until the age of 50, and then annually after that, since the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases dramatically with age.
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Over- or Under-Active Thyroid
An under-active thyroid can be the cause of unexplained weight gain and an over-active thyroid can indicate an autoimmune disease. Women over the age of 35, or those with symptoms, should get their thyroid tested once a year with a simple blood test.
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STDs
STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility if left untreated. Start getting tested annually for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV when you become sexually active or start a new relationship.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea can both be tested by doing a cervical swab; a blood test can detect HIV.

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Colonoscopy
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. It's important to get screened for colorectal cancer starting at the age of 50, and then once every 10 years after that.
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Regular Checkups
Finally, remember to visit your doctor annually for a complete physical to keep any small problems from turning into a serious health issue.

Lead a healthy lifestyle and set a good example for your kids by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, getting regular exercise, and refraining from smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and other unhealthy behaviors.