Must-have medical tests for women of all ages


Tiara Thomas is eating more fresh foods and getting plenty of exercise. But like a lot of women in their early 20s, she's outgrown her pediatrician, and put off getting an adult checkup.

"As far as you know, the annual exams or things my age, I'm really kind of clueless to that," Thomas said.

"In their 20s women really need to start thinking about getting a pap smear, we start giving pap smears at age 21," said gynecologist Dr. Jessica Swinberg. "There's different vaccines that they might be eligible for."

Doctors say recommendations for women in their 20s typically include vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough, as well as blood tests for hepatitis.

But there is one newer recommendation that could have as much of an impact on preventing cervical cancers as pap smears do.

Dr. Ricki Pollycove is a women's health specialist at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

"Well, HPV, Human Papillomavirus vaccinations, there are two types available, FDA approved in the United States," Pollycove said.

She says HPV vaccines, while already recommended in childhood, can still benefit many women in their 20s.

"In fact her insurance, absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt, will cover up to age 26," Pollycove said.

Moving into their 30s, health experts say women need to be screened for conditions that may become more dangerous as they age.

"Certainly by age 30, for American women, we want to be certain they have their baseline cholesterol checked to see if they've inherited the genes that lead to heart disease as we age," Pollycove said.

She also recommends baseline mammograms for women who may be starting families.

For women in their 40s, Dr. Pollycove still recommends yearly mammograms, "We do detect a significant amount of those rare cancers that can arise in women between age 40 and 50 in our breast center." She also suggests glucose testing to monitor risk for diabetes.

One other recommendation may come as a surprise to many women -- an eye exam. Besides vision problems, optometrist Dr. Jeremy Ciano says thorough eye exams can detect signs of more serious diseases.

"From a medical perspective, there's a lot of other things we check out, such as diabetes, hypertension, and especially for women multiple sclerosis," Ciano said.

Finally, for women in their 50s spotting colon cancer becomes a priority.

"So at age 50 we screen for that," Dr. Pollycove said. "Then there are women for whom we'll screen for bone density as well."

Ultimately, younger women like Thomas can expect to see a lot of changes as the go through life; and doctors say the screenings they get along the way, could make the difference in their health.

"I'm definitely going to make that a priority and maybe a new year's resolution," Thomas said.

Dr. Pollycove has one final recommendation for her younger female patients, and it doesn't involve a test at all, but rather a short educational talk on contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, and instruction on how to perform a self-breast exam.

written and produced by Tim Didion

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