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Women's Guide to Staying Healthy

Women can't always stay healthy and prevent disease. But by having certain screening tests and practicing healthful behaviors, they are more likely to live long, healthy lives.

Review the following guidelines for women at average risk and discuss them with your health care provider. If you have risk factors for a disease or a diagnosed condition, these recommendations may not apply to you; talk to your provider about when you should have these tests.

Screening tests

Screening tests can detect cancer, heart disease and other diseases early when they're easier to treat. Talk with your health care provider about which of the following tests, recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), are right for you.

  • Blood pressure. Have your blood pressure checked beginning at age 18.

  • Cholesterol check. Have your cholesterol checked starting at age 45, earlier if you are at risk of having heart disease.

  • Colorectal cancer test. If you are at an average risk of colorectal cancer, have a test for colorectal cancer starting at age 50. Your health care provider can help you decide which test for colorectal cancer is right for you. How often you should have the test depends on which test you and your provider select for screening.

  • Diabetes test. Have a test to screen for type 2 diabetes if you are overweight, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or are older than 45.

  • Mammogram. Currently, the USPSTF recommends screening every two years for women ages 50 to 74. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends yearly screening for all women ages 40 and older. Talk with your doctor about your personal risk factors before making a decision about when to start getting mammograms or how often to get them.

  • Clinical breast exam. The ACS recommends clinical breast exams (CBEs) at least every three years for all women in their 20s and 30s and annual CBEs for women ages 40 and older. The USPSTF, however, believes there is not enough evidence to assess the value of CBEs for women ages 40 and older. Women should talk with their doctors about their personal risk factors and make a decision about whether they should have a CBE.

  • Pap test. According to the American Cancer Society, all women should have Pap tests starting at age 21. Women between ages 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years. Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have a Pap test plus an HPV test (called "co-testing") every 5 years. This is the preferred approach, but it is also acceptable to continue to have Pap tests alone every 3 years. Women over age 65 who have had regular screening with normal results should stop cervical cancer screening. A woman who has had a hysterectomy (with removal of the cervix) for reasons not related to cervical cancer and who has no history of cervical cancer or serious pre-cancer should not be screened. A woman who has been vaccinated against HPV should still follow the screening recommendations for her age group.

  • Osteoporosis test. Have a bone density test at age 65 to screen for thinning of the bones, or at a younger age if you are at risk for osteoporosis.

  • Tests for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Have STD tests if you're sexually active and you and your partner aren't monogamous.

  • Eye exam. You should have a complete eye exam at least once between the ages of 20 and 29 and at least twice between the ages of 30 and 39, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Have an eye exam at the age of 40, at which time your doctor can recommend how frequently you should follow up; after age 65, have an exam every one to two years.

  • Skin exam. Each time you have a health checkup, have your provider examine your skin for skin cancer and precancerous conditions. Learn the signs of skin cancer so you can examine your own skin regularly.

Healthy lifestyle

Making the following healthful lifestyle choices can have a significant impact on your current and future health.

  • Don't smoke. If you do, talk with your health care provider about quitting. Make a plan and set a quit date.

  • Get adequate calcium and vitamin D throughout your lifetime.

  • Eat a healthful diet. Eat a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean meat, fish, chicken, eggs, beans and whole grains. Limit the amount of saturated fat, salt and sugar you eat.

  • Be physically active. Start slowly and work up to a total of 30 to 60 minutes or more most days of the week.

  • Maintain a healthful weight. To do so, balance the number of calories you eat with the number you burn off in daily activities. To lose weight, eat less and exercise more.

  • Drink alcohol only in moderation. If you drink alcohol, limit your intake to one drink a day. If you're pregnant, avoid alcohol.

  • Practice safe sex. Have your male sexual partner use a latex condom each time you have sex unless you know he is free of any STDs, is HIV negative, does not use intravenous drugs and both you and he are monogamous.