A doctor is shown wearing a stethoscope.
By packaging all your annual exams into a single visit, you’ll save time and simplify your preventive care. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

It can be easy to assume you only need to see your medical provider if you’re sick.

It’s even easier to sideline, delay or forget to schedule your preventive health care appointments.

Women tend to put themselves second to their family’s needs, including their preventive care—and the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened this issue.

Mammograms and Pap smears, for example, were down nearly 80% in April 2020 compared to April 2019, although both services rebounded during the summer months.

As you approach 2022, it is time to take control of your preventive health.

When you keep in touch with your provider and maintain regular preventive health appointments, you improve your quality of life and also reduce your risk of becoming ill. You can lessen health care costs over time, detect potentially life-threatening conditions early and increase the likelihood of effective treatment.

But what are the most important preventive health appointments and routine tests? And how often should you schedule them?

Here are the recommendations:

Mammogram

Mammography uses low-energy X-rays to examine breasts with the goal of early detection of breast cancer, typically by recognizing characteristic masses or microcalcifications.

It is recommended women get a baseline mammogram starting as early as age 40 and no later than age 50, depending on risk factors and personal preference. Mammograms should be repeated every one to two years until age 75.

Pap smear

A Pap smear, or Pap test, is recommended every three years for women ages 21-64.

HPV testing and screening for cervical cancer are added to the Pap every five years.

If you are 65 or older, ask your provider about your recommended Pap test schedule, or if you need to continue having them. This procedure is important for preventing and detecting cervical cancer.

Colonoscopy

The American Cancer Society recommends women have a colonoscopy at age 45. A colonoscopy is the best way to detect colorectal cancer. This lifesaving test can detect benign tissue growths that may be removed during the procedure before they have a chance to turn into cancer.

After your initial screening, most people will only need a colonoscopy every 10 years. You and your provider will decide the appropriate screening schedule for you.

Blood pressure

You can monitor your blood pressure at home. This is a great preventive health measure. Normal blood pressure is considered 120/80. If your blood pressure is higher than 135/80 and you are overweight, you should talk to your provider about a diabetes screening.

If your numbers are routinely 140/90 or above, this is considered Stage 2 hypertension and you should talk with your provider.

If you take medicines for high blood pressure, your provider may recommend a comprehensive metabolic panel to see how your kidneys and liver are functioning.

This panel also measures your electrolyte and acid/base balance, blood sugar and blood proteins. You may request this panel regardless of blood pressure. Your provider may conduct this test during an annual wellness visit.

Bone density scan

If you are age 65 or older, medical professionals recommend having a bone-density scan to check for osteopenia or osteoporosis—bone loss that can cause bones to easily fracture and potentially lead to long-term health concerns like immobility, blood clots, pain and limited movement.

Check with your provider about the necessity of repeat scans based on individual circumstances. If you’re younger than 65 and you’re interested in a scan, or if you’re concerned about bone density, talk to your provider about these scans.

Many risk factors—prior cancers, early menopause, history of a fracture or family history, for example—can make it necessary to get a bone density scan at an earlier age.

Lipid profile for heart disease

A person’s first cholesterol screening should occur between the ages of 9 and 11 and then be repeated every five years. Women between the ages of 55 and 65 should have a lipid profile done every two years, and annually after 65 years of age.

More frequent testing might be needed if your initial test results were abnormal, if you already have coronary artery disease, if you’re taking cholesterol-lowering medications or if you’re at higher risk of coronary artery disease because of family history or other factors.

Put yourself first in 2022 and schedule your preventive exams during one time-saving visit at the Spectrum Health Women’s Health and Wellness Center. Make it easy to care for yourself.