Your guide to health checks for women
Regular health check-ups can help you stay on top of your health and identify early signs of health problems. Even if you’re symptom free, you should still have regular check-ups. Depending on your age and lifestyle, you’ll need different screens and tests.
General health check-ups
It’s important to have general health check-ups even if you feel healthy. This is because many diseases and conditions can take a long time to develop and regular health check-ups can help to identify early signs. A general health check-up is an assessment of your current state of health. Your general practitioner (GP) will usually perform the examination. You’ll need to make an appointment to get a health check. It’s best to see the same doctor each time you have a health check, that way you can build a relationship with them and they can track your medical history.
At a health check-up your doctor can:
- check for current health issues
- assess your risk of developing issues in the future
- assess your lifestyle
- check if you need any vaccinations
If you have a high risk of getting an illness or disease, your doctor may also be able to offer suggestions to help reduce your risk.
Skin cancer check
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in world, yet there’s no formal skin checking program in Australia. Doctors advise that you should check your skin for any changes every three months. If you notice changes, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. You can also choose to go to a skin cancer clinic to have a skin check. Read more about how to check for signs of skin cancer at the Cancer Council.
Breast cancer check
Finding breast cancer early gives you the best chance of survival. The National Breast Cancer Foundation recommends checking your breasts monthly. You should see your doctor without delay if you notice any of the following changes in your breasts:
- a new lump or lumpiness
- a change in the size or shape of your breasts
- change to the nipple discharge that occurs without squeezing
- a change in the skin of the breast such as redness or dimpling
- an unusual pain that doesn’t go away
You can find out more about how to check for breast cancer symptoms at the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Most of the time changes in your breasts aren’t a sign of cancer, but the only way to know for sure is to see your doctor.
Cancer Council Australia recommends women aged between 50 and 74 years get a breast cancer screening mammogram every two years. If you have a personal or family history of breast cancer, you should ask your doctor how often you need to get a breast check.
Heart health checks
You should have a heart health check at least once every 2 years once you're over 45 (or over 35 if you're Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander). Your GP will ask you questions about your lifestyle and family and perform a blood pressure check. You might also need a blood cholesterol test.
Being overweight is a significant risk factor for many health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. If you have concerns, ask your doctor to check your body mass index (BMI) and waist measurement every two years.
Depending on your risk level, may need to get a fasting blood sugar test for diabetes every one to three years. You may be a high risk of diabetes if you:
- have had a heart attack or stroke before
- have had gestational diabetes (a type of diabetes that occurs in pregnancy)
- have polycystic ovary syndrome
- take medications to treat psychosis
- are over 40
- are not physically active
- were born in Asia
You should have a diabetes test every year if you’re pre-diabetic. You can speak to your doctor about getting a diabetes check. If they think you should be tested, they can fill in a pathology request form which you can take to a collection to have the blood test.
Sexually transmitted infections (STI) screening
If you are sexually active, it’s a good idea to be tested for sexually transmitted infections every 6-12 months. You should get a test even if you don’t have any symptoms.
Cervical screening tests (Pap smear)
If you’re a woman between the ages of 25 and 74 and have ever been sexually active, you should have a cervical screening test every five years until the age of 74. The cervical screening test replaces the Pap smear test to detect human papilloma virus (HPV). Your first cervical screening test is due when you’re 25 or two years after your last Pap test. This test can detect cervical cancer. If you are due for a test, speak to your doctor. You can also find out more about the cervical screening test at the Department of Health.
Vision and hearing checks
Women who don’t wear prescription glasses or contact lenses should have their eyes tested every two to three years, however you should have a test if you notice any changes to your vision. If you already wear glasses, you should have them tested annually. Women over 60 should have their eyes tested yearly regardless, as eyesight deteriorates with age. Your doctor can test your vision and they can suggest you see an optometrist if needed. You can also go straight to an optometrist to have your vision check.
If you’re often exposed to loud noises, you should also have your hearing checked regularly. If you notice any of the following symptoms, you should have your hearing checked:
- ringing sensations in the ears
- people complaining that you talk too loudly
- often having to ask people to repeat what they’re saying
- struggling to hear conversations
If you’re over 65, you should have yearly hearing tests. Your doctor can test your hearing or refer you to an audiologist.
From the age of 50, women should undergo a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) every two years. This can be done in the privacy of your own home using a bowel cancer screening test. Call Bowel Cancer Australia on 1800 555 494 to get yours or visit the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program for more information. Women at high risk of bowel cancer may need a colonoscopy every five years.
You should also see your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- bleeding from the rectum or any sign of blood after a bowel motion
- a recent and persistent change in bowel habits
- constipation or needing to go to the toilet more often
- abdominal pain, bloating or cramping
For a complete list of signs to watch out for, see bowel cancer symptoms at Healthdirect Australia.
You should see a dentist for a check-up once a year. Depending on the condition of your teeth, your dentist may recommend more regular check-ups.
Bone density check
For women over 70 years of age, osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) is a common problem. Bone density testing is important if you have a stooped posture, family history of osteoporosis or a previous fracture not caused by a fall or major trauma. Women over 50 at risk of osteoporosis should talk to their doctor about a bone density scan. You can find out more about bone density scans at Osteoporosis Australia.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.
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