Bet you don't have this date marked on your calendar: Today is National Women's Checkup Day, an effort started by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to remind women across the country to pencil in appointments with their doctors. To coincide with this, Women's Health has also made it the Women's Health Week challenge of the day.
"Being healthy starts with each of us taking control," HHS SecretaryÃ‚Â Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. "So Monday on National Women's Checkup Day, and during National Women's Health Week, I encourage you to sit down with your doctor or health care provider and talk about what you can do to take control of your health. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no better gift you can give yourselfÃ¢â‚¬“or your loved ones."
And now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, women have access to 22 different preventive services that are required to be covered without a copay, including well-woman visits (your annual physical) and assorted cancer screenings, all of which have been deemed key to preventing and/or effectively treating future health problems.
Ready to take part in National Women's Checkup Day and call yourÃ‚Â health care professionals? This guide will help you see how often you should schedule various screenings:
Once a Month Breast self-exam:Ã‚Â Check your girls for unusual lumps or bumps monthly so you can stay on top of any changes, says Moore. The best time to do it is a few days after your period ends.
Skin self-exam:Ã‚Â The Skin Cancer Foundation strongly recommends that you check out your body once a month for any new or unusual spots or marks. Just remember your ABCDEs: asymmetry, border irregularity, uneven color, diameter bigger than 6 mm, and evolving shape and size.
Every Six Months Dental check-up:Ã‚Â Make sure to hit up the dentistÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s chair twice a year for cleanings and other preventative maintenance, but you should only get dental X-rays on an as needed basis to prevent unnecessary exposure to radiation, according to the American Dental AssociationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s recommendations.
Once a Year Full physical exam:Ã‚Â This annual check-up should include a height and weight check, a blood pressure screening, a clinical breast exam, and any blood tests your doctor deems necessary, says Moore. These may include tests for blood sugar, blood count, hormone levels, and other crucial markers.
Pap smear:Ã‚Â If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had three consecutive normal pap smears, are in a mutually monogamous relationship, and have no other risk factors, you could technically go three years between screenings, says Moore. However, most doctors still suggest women see their gynecologist once a year and get a pap smear while theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re there. Your pap tests for any changes or abnormalities in the cells in your cervix, which is a way to screen for cervical cancer, says Alyssa Dweck, MD, co-author of V is For Vagina. For women 21-29, any mild irregularities in the pap test will prompt an HPV test to check for the high-risk strains of the HPV virus, says Dweck. Other than that, you probably wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get an HPV test until youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re 30. (See below for more info on HPV testing)
Pelvic exam:Ã‚Â Even if you arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t getting an annual pap smear, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s important to visit your OB/GYN annually for a routine pelvic exam, where sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll feel around for your uterus and ovaries, says Dweck. This is a way to check for fibroids, cysts or any pain or swelling that might indicate an infection.
HIV tests:Ã‚Â Get tested annually at your doctorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s office or a health clinic, says Dweck. The most accurate screening is a still a blood test, though you may get a mouth swab in some cases.
Other STD tests:Ã‚Â ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s recommended that sexually active women get tested for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea annually until age 25, says Dweck. These can be run off your pap or with a separate swab of your cervix. After age 25, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still recommended that you get tested regularly for the range of STDsÃ¢â‚¬”including hepatitis b and c, syphilis, and the lesser-known trichomoniasisÃ¢â‚¬”based on your own risk factors, which you should discuss with your doctor. Of course, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also a smart idea to get tested before you have a new sexual partner or if you have any usual symptoms.
Eye exams:Ã‚Â The American Optometric Association recommends eye exams at least once every two years, though annual exams are suggested for anyone with current vision problems (if you wear glasses or contacts, that includes you).
Every Other Year Skin cancer screening:Ã‚Â Skin cancer is a huge issue for women in their twenties, so see your dermatologist before your biennial appointment if you notice any suspicious marks, says Moore.
Slightly Less Often HPV test:Ã‚Â At age 30, women should start getting an HPV test with their pap every five years, says Dweck. Luckily, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s relatively quick and painless since the test uses the same cervical swab as your pap. Prior to age 30, you should not be getting tested regularly for HPV unless you have an abnormal pap, since strains of the disease are so common in younger woman and they typically go away on their own, says Dweck.
Cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood count:Ã‚Â Your doctor will want to check these at least once in your twenties and once in your thirties, though some physicians give a guideline of testing them once every five years, says Moore.
Thyroid test:Ã‚Â Starting at age 35, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s recommended that you check your thyroid levels via a blood test and have them re-tested ever five years after that, says Moore.
Down the Road* Colonoscopy:Ã‚Â This test should come right around your 50th birthday, unless your family history warrants an earlier screening, says Moore. If you have a first-degree relative with colon cancer, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s recommended that you start your screening 10 years before their age at diagnosis.
Diabetes screening:Ã‚Â Routine diabetes screenings (which involve a blood sugar test) start at age 50 and should be done once every three years, says Dweck.
Mammograms:Ã‚Â At 40, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll want to start scheduling annual mammograms, though your doctor may recommended screening earlier if you have a family history, says Dweck.
*For women in their 20s and 30s
Only As Needed DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be shocked if your doctor orders a blood test outside of these general guidelines, since many health checks are done on an as-needed basis. Things like your hormone levels, blood sugar, vitamin D levels, and iron deficiencies can all be seen in a blood test and may be ordered if you come in with certain symptoms, says Dweck.
Additional reporting by Casey Gueren