Do You Really Need an Annual Every Year?
It’s a common misconception that women don’t need an annual checkup from their gynecologist each year. In fact, women do need an annual checkup each year, especially for a pelvic exam and breast exam. Cherokee Women’s Health sheds some light on the difference between a pap smear and a pelvic exam and why they’re so important to maintaining your overall health.
Pelvic Exam vs. Pap Smear
A pap smear and a pelvic exam are not the same thing. A pap smear is a brushing of cells from the cervix, or opening of the uterus. These cells are evaluated by a laboratory to look for signs of precancerous diseases of the cervix, which if successfully treated, can prevent cervical cancer. Sexually transmitted diseases can also be diagnosed and treated through information gained from a pap smear. Pap smears do not test for uterine or ovarian cancer.
A pelvic exam usually occurs after a pap smear at your annual checkup. This is when your healthcare provider examines the skin of the vulva, vagina and cervix, looking for any suspicious lesions, which could indicate skin cancer or vulvar diseases. He or she will also perform a bi-manual exam using their hands to feel the pelvic organs and check for masses or inconsistencies. During this process, your doctor will gently place two fingers inside the vagina and use the other hand to gently press down on the area he or she is feeling. In doing this, your doctor is noting if the organs have changed in size or shape, and it allows them to feel the uterus, the ovaries, the bladder and the rectum. If your doctor determines that your uterus or other organs feel enlarged, he or she may order an ultrasound to check for fibroids, cysts, or other inconsistencies.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggest that certain women do not require a pap smear every year. If you are over the age of 30, in a mutually monogamous relationship and have never had an abnormal pap smear, you may not need a pap smear each year. If you’ve ever had a hysterectomy that was not done for an abnormal pap smear and you fall into any of the above categories, your doctor may suggest you only need a pap smear every three to five years. However, any changes to menstrual cycle, abnormal bleeding, or vaginal pain or discomfort should warrant a call to your gynecologist.
Do I need a Pelvic Exam Every Year?
Annual pelvic exams in addition to your yearly well-woman exam are essential for maintaining your overall health. It is imperative that you do not skip your annual pelvic exam, even if you have had a hysterectomy with removal of the uterus and ovaries. Your annual well visit not only includes a pelvic exam but a breast exam, as well as an opportunity to talk to your doctor about birth control options, weight, cholesterol, blood pressure or any other concerns.
If you have questions regarding the recommendations of when to get a pap smear or a pelvic exam, contact our office speak to one of our healthcare providers or to make an appointment.
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