Every relationship evolves over time. The one you have with your gynecological care provider is no exception. As your body changes, your yearly well-woman visits adjust to your needs. Whether you see a gynecologist or your primary care provider for these checkups, here’s what to expect, decade by decade.
If you haven’t had the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, now’s the time. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can cause cervical and other cancers. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends HPV vaccination for women through age 26.
Your provider will also screen you for cervical cancer using a Pap test. At this age, most women need one every three years.
Finally, you should discuss family planning with your provider—anything from birth control to prepregnancy care.
Beginning in this decade, experts advise adding an HPV test to the Pap test and having both every 5 years.
Your birth control needs may evolve, too. You might consider more permanent methods if your family is complete. But you could still be at risk for STIs. Your provider can discuss prevention and testing.
Beginning in your 40s, you’re likely to notice a shift in your periods. Your flow may change in heaviness, stick to less of a schedule, or even skip a few months.
This is called perimenopause, the lead-in to menopause. Your hormone levels are changing, and you’re not always ovulating. Other symptoms include hot flashes and trouble sleeping. Talk with your provider about how to cope.
During menopause, your periods stop and pregnancy is no longer possible. This often occurs in your early 50s. Besides causing bothersome symptoms, menopause can contribute to low bone density. Your provider can recommend ways to prevent complications like fractures.
After age 65, if you’ve never had an abnormal result or cervical cancer, you may be able to stop cervical cancer screening tests altogether.
Through the years, some things will never change: Gynecologists can always answer questions about period problems, bladder concerns, or sexual health. They’re trained to take care of women’s health needs at every age.