Physicians Panel to Healthy Women: Skip These Tests
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Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening. The aorta supplies oxygenated blood to the circulatory system, and passes over the heart from the left ventricle, running down in front of the backbone. If the wall of the aorta weakens, it can develop a bulge (aneurysm) that if ruptured can cause fatal bleeding. This type of aneurysm is more common in older men than in women, and is also more common in smokers than nonsmokers. The USPSTF recommends against this test for women who have never smoked and says there isn't enough evidence to make a recommendation for older women who are current or former smokers.

Unendorsed tests. No USPSTF guidelines have formally been issued for the following tests, but no reliable institutions that guide us have endorsed them for healthy women:

Whole-body CT scans. Many imaging centers promote full-body CT (computed tomography) to screen for tumors, aneurysms, osteoporosis, hernias, kidney stones and gallstones. However, the procedure hasn't been rigorously tested for that purpose. In fact, the National Cancer Institute warns that most abnormal findings on these tests do not indicate a serious health problem, but can lead to biopsies and other follow-up tests that are expensive, inconvenient and uncomfortable. In addition, whole-body CT delivers approximately four times the average yearly dose of natural radiation.

Coronary artery calcium score. A CT scan of the coronary arteries can detect calcium deposits that may signify an increased risk of myocardial infarction. The results of the scan are used to compute a coronary artery calcium (CAC) score. The USPSTF is currently evaluating the use of the CAC for screening. In the meantime, if your doctor hasn't advised you to have this test, there's no good reason to get it on your own.

Most women have likely had more than a few screening tests. Blood pressure and cholesterol screening, mammogram, Pap smear and colonoscopies are all fairly routine in this day and age, even as increased reports of false positives for some of these permeate the media as of late. Still, there are countless screening tests available that fall under the radar until they are presented to the patient, and it is good to have a sense ahead of time which if any of these are a worthwhile investment in your health. 

Keep in mind that the USPSTF recommendations have been developed for the general population, and that only you and your doctor can decide on the screening schedule that is best for you.

Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Jan. 2017, http://tinyurl.com/z8adb6l

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