3 screenings every woman needs in Colorado
Should you start getting mammograms at age 40, 45, or 50?
And what about Pap tests? They used to be required every year, but new guidelines recommend longer intervals between exams.
As new science emerges, it makes sense that health recommendations would change as well. These updates happen all the time, so it’s understandable if you’re confused about which screenings to get and when.
We checked with Antigone Parrish, MD, an ob-gyn and regional value adviser for Women’s Health at Kaiser Permanente. She gave some much-needed straight talk on the 3 screenings every woman needs.
Kaiser Permanente recommends that women start mammography at age 50. After their first time, they should keep getting mammograms every 1 to 2 years.
Dr. Parrish says that if you have any of these risk factors, you should mention them to your health care provider. They could affect when you should start getting mammograms, as well as how often you’ll need them:
- A first-degree relative with breast cancer
- Previous atypical cells on a biopsy
- Chest wall radiation for previous cancer
- Positive genetic test for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene
“Based on your family history,” says Dr. Parrish, “you might opt to start at age 40 and be screened annually.”
These tests screen for cervical cancer. Kaiser Permanente recommends Pap tests without HPV testing every 3 years from age 21 to 30.
Once a woman reaches age 30, Pap tests are done along with HPV tests (detailed below). Timing for future screenings will be based on your results.
Regardless, it’s important to keep up with your well-woman exams on a regular basis. These exams cover pelvic and breast health, as well as diet, stress, weight, and other topics.
“Just because Paps aren’t done at close intervals shouldn’t keep you from coming in for well-woman exams,” says Dr. Parrish.
Cervical cancer is caused by HPV, short for human papillomavirus. HPV screening can be performed along with your Pap test. Even if you have been vaccinated against HPV, testing is still important.
“The vaccine does not cover all strains of the virus,” says Dr. Parrish. “Women who have been vaccinated still need to have HPV testing.”
If a woman’s Pap and HPV tests are normal, she can move to 5-year intervals for both tests, starting at age 30.
“You can always come in at closer intervals,” she says. “We want people to understand we will do what they are comfortable with.”
That’s true across the board. You’re the center of your own health care team, and we want to make sure you feel comfortable advocating for what’s right for you.
“All these tests are about prevention,” says Dr. Parrish. “They are about keeping you healthier and keeping your life the way you want to live it. The bottom line is for each of our members to talk with their providers about the best screening plan for them.”
Your personal action plan
At kp.org, you can track your recommended screenings and when you’re due for them. You can also learn more about why they’re important. Sign on to kp.org and search under “My Medical Record” to learn more.
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