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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 be the one to go to for your check-up. You’ll need to make an appointment to get a health check. Try 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 checks
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 regularly. You have opportunities every day to ‘get to know’ your breasts through activities such as showering or getting dressed. 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’re in this age group you’ll receive invitations when your mammogram is due. These scans are free of charge as part of the national BreastScreen program. Women aged 40 - 49 and over 74 can also access these free mammograms, but won’t receive invitations. 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 two years once you're over 45 (or over 30 if you're Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander). People with diabetes will need to have regular heart heart checks after the age of 35. 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. Overweight women have 14 times the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is almost 4 times more than overweight men. If you have concerns, ask your doctor to check your body mass index (BMI) and waist measurement every two years. If you are at a higher risk, you should have your weight checked more frequently.
- have had a heart attack or stroke before
- have had gestational diabetes (a type of diabetes that occurs in pregnancy)
- have a family history of diabetes
- have polycystic ovary syndrome
- take medications to treat psychosis
- are over 45 years and have high blood pressure and/or are living with overweight or obesity
- are over 55 years
- are not physically active
- were born in Asia
- are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
You should have a diabetes test every year if you have pre-diabetes.
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 a blood test or fasting blood glucose test.
AusDrisk is also a great government owned tool available to the public to calculate your risk of type 2 diabetes in the next 5 years – you can do it yourself or with the help of a health professional.
Sexually transmitted infections (STI) screening
If you are sexually active, your doctor may recommend that you be tested for sexually transmitted infections (STI). If your doctor suggests this, you should get a test even if you don’t have any symptoms, as STIs can cause health problems if left untreated.
Cervical screening tests (Pap smear)
If you’re a person with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 74 and have ever been sexually active, you should have a free cervical screening test every five years. The cervical screening test replaces the Pap smear test which was used in Australia until 2017. This test detects human papilloma virus (HPV), which can cause changes to cervix cells and may lead to cervical cancer. Your first cervical screening test is due when you’re 25 or two years after your last Pap test. 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 or contacts, you should have your sight tested annually. Women over 65 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 to 74, women should take an at-home faecal immunochemical test (FIT) every two years. This can be done in the privacy of your own home using a bowel cancer screening test which the Australian Government supplies to this age group at no cost. Visit the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program for more information or to have a test sent out to you.
Bear in mind that the screening program is targeted at people who have no signs or symptoms of bowel cancer. If you start noticing signs or have any other high risk factors, your doctor will recommend an appropriate regular testing regime. For example, women at high risk of bowel cancer may need regular colonoscopy screenings.
Of course, bowel cancer can occur in people younger than 50 and older than 74. If you are concerned about bowel cancer, you should discuss it with your doctor. 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
Over 1 in 4 women aged 75 years and older have osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). 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 or take a bone health self-assessment at Healthy Bones 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.
Health and wellbeing
programs & support
You Belong to More with CBHS Hospital cover:
- Greater choice over your health options including who treats you
- Get care at home with Hospital Substitute Treatment program
- Free health and wellbeing programs to support your health challenges
Live your healthiest, happiest life with CBHS Extras cover:
- Benefits for proactive health checks e.g. bone density tests, eye screenings
- Keep up your care with telehealth and digital options
- Save on dental and optical with CBHS Choice Network providers