We break down information you need to know when it comes to mapping out your health screenings and vaccinations.

By Naomi Barr
September 23, 2020
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woman talking to her doctor
Credit: Getty / JGI/Tom Grill

Managing the many aspects of our health can feel like an overwhelming task—there are, after all, several appointments, screenings, and vaccines to keep track of each and every year. Making and meeting these medical visits, however, is critical for long-term wellness. Here, when (and how often) to have some of the most important ones, from dental exams and Pap tests to your flu shot.

Wellness Exam

During this exam, your primary-care provider will check your vitals, do pelvic and breast exams, schedule screenings, and chat about your health (blood work isn't always included); this often know as a "well-woman exam," and should be conducted annually.

Dental Exam

During your dental exam, your dentist or a technician will clean your teeth and talk to you about preventing cavities, gingivitis (gum inflammation), and periodontitis (gum disease). Most go once or twice a year. People who have tooth decay or other issues, however, may need to go more often.

Pap and HPV Screening Tests

Prevent cervical cancer from developing or catch it early on, when it's typically curable, with regular Pap and HPV tests. Get a Pap every three years from ages 21 to 29, and then shift to every five and add an HPV test from 30 to 65, says the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Cancer Society. Abnormal results call for more frequent testing.

Mammogram

A mammogram, though not a perfect screening tool, can help you detect breast cancer in advance. This low-dose X-ray accurately detects about 87 percent of cases. Frequency guidelines differ, so ask your doctor which is best for you: If you're at average risk, you can get one annually from 45 to 54, then switch to every two years, per the American Cancer Society—or possibly wait and go every other year from 50 to 74, says the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Colorectal-Cancer Screening

Detect precancerous polyps, which can be removed, or colon or rectal cancers, which are easiest to treat when found as soon as possible, with a colorectal-cancer test. Federal guidelines and the American Cancer Society recommend starting at 45 or 50. Follow-up depends on the test you choose; for a colonoscopy, plan on one every 10 years through age 75.

Flu Vaccination

Flu viruses mutate very quickly, so new vaccines may be designed each year to target them. Protect yourself from this season's strains with a flu shot, which you should receive every October. Schedule it during that month, and it can help protect you through peak flu season until the virus peters out, around the following April or May.

Note: These recommendations are for women at average risk, meaning they have no personal or family health history of the disease and no known genetic risk factors.

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