1. Screening for cancer
The risk of gynecological cancers — cervical, uterine, ovarian, vaginal, and vulvar — increases with age. An annual visit to the gynecologist helps provide early detection for these cancers.
To check for cervical cancer, your gynecologist will do an HPV test, a Pap smear, or an HPV/Pap co-test (one swab is used for the combined test), when you’re due until age 65. If you’ve had abnormal results in the past or have a history of cervical cancer, you may be advised to continue screening past 65.
A pelvic exam also checks for noncancerous conditions such as ovarian cysts and fibroids as well as a variety of conditions that may develop with age. The exam may include the vulva, vagina, pelvic/reproductive organs, and urinary tract. While guidelines vary on how often you should get a pelvic exam, Dr. Rosser advises women to get a pelvic exam every year so that they can be checked for early signs of disease. “Ultimately, you and your OB-GYN should talk about what makes sense for you, depending on your individual situation and medical history,” she says
The risk of breast cancer also increases with age. At your visit, your OB-GYN will perform a breast exam, checking for any changes including abnormal lumps, and refer you for a mammogram, the hallmark screening method to detect breast cancer. For women of average risk, screening guidelines recommend getting a mammogram every one or two years until age 74. The American Cancer Society recommends continuing screening as long as a woman is healthy and expected to live at least 10 more years.