Getting a gynecological exam (gyn exam) is one of the best things women can do, whether she’s straight, bisexual, lesbian, single, married, sexually active or not. A gyn exam provides a health overview for a woman, and it may include a breast exam, vaccinations, taking your medical history, tests for STDs and STIs, a pelvic exam, and a Pap test. A pelvic exam allows a doctor or nurse to check the position and size of your pelvic organs–the vagina, uterus, cervix, and ovaries. A Pap test is one of the best tools to find hidden, small tumors that may lead to cervical cancer.
Why Do Women Need a Pelvic Exam and Pap Test?
Doctors use the pelvic exam to find vaginal infections, STDs, the cause of abnormal uterine bleeding, ovarian cysts, uterine prolapse, before prescribing a birth control, and to collect evidence in cases of sexual assault. During a pelvic exam, you’ll take off your clothes below the waist, and place a cover the nurse gives you over your lower half. You’ll lie on your back with your feet raised and supported by stirrups.
A pelvic exam is more comfortable if you are relaxed. Taking deep breaths and chatting with the nurse or doctor help you relax. Try not to hold your breath, and relax your legs and hips as much as you can.
The exam often includes a Pap test, which is the best way to detect cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is very curable when found early. It’s simple, not painful, and usually takes only five minutes. Most health insurance plans cover Pap tests or cervical cancer screening at no cost to the patient.
A Pap test takes a sample of cells from a woman’s cervix or vagina. It’s not painful, but may be a little uncomfortable when the doctor uses a speculum to widen the opening of the vagina. A tiny spatula or brush is used to collect cells from the cervix. Cells collected from a woman’s cervix are spread on a microscope slide for examination. Test results come back in about a week.
When Should Women Get a Gynecological Exams?
All women should get a gyn exam when they are 21 years old or within three years after beginning sexual activity. After three consecutive tests that detect no abnormalities, routine screening is recommended every three years for women 21-29 years old. For women 30 to 65 years who have a normal pelvic exam and Pap test with a negative HPV test, screening can be done every five years.
Women with certain risk factors, such as being HIV positive, or who have had a history of abnormal Pap tests, should continue to have pelvic exams more frequently.
There are no risks associated with a gyn exam, pelvic exam or Pap test.
Why Would my Doctor Schedule a Repeat Pap Test?
Your doctor may schedule a repeat Pap test if not enough cells were collected during the test. Since decreased levels of the female hormone estrogen also can influence Pap test results, menopausal women may need to take estrogen before they repeat the test.
Although they are the best way to detect cervical cancer, Pap tests are not perfect. False results can be upsetting and confusing. An abnormal Pap test does not necessarily mean that cancer cells were found during the examination. Abnormal Pap test results could be caused by infection, inflammation, or changes connected to your menstrual cycle. Your doctor will evaluate the results to determine if further testing is necessary.
Do I Need to Get Gynecological Exams and Pap Tests if I Have Had a Hysterectomy?
Most doctors would recommend that you continue to have gyn exams and Pap tests after a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix). Check with your doctor to determine if you still need Pap tests. Even women who no longer require Pap tests should see their doctor annually for gyn.
To schedule a gyn exam, which usually includes a pelvic exam and a Pap test, contact Creekside Center for Women at (479) 582-9268.
Information based on The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. http://www.acog.org/-/media/For-Patients/faq085.pdf. Accessed 11/3/2015.
Related Blog Posts
Dr. Darrin Cunningham completed his medical degree at Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1991, subsequently completing an Obstetrics & Gynecologic Surgery internship and residency in 1996 at Hillcrest Health Center in Oklahoma City,...read more
World Doctor's Day is Saturday, March 30. It's a day to celebrate and recognize the contributions of physicians in our lives and the community. Watch as Dr. Darrin Cunningham and Dr. Greg Reiter from Creekside Center for Women talk about what you need to know about...read more
Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a type of bacterial infection found in a woman’s intestines, vagina or rectum. Approximately 25 percent of all healthy, adult women have these bacteria. Often, Adults don't show any symptoms except for bladder or urinary tract...read more
Birth control is a personal choice for a woman. It can be challenging to choose the option that’s right for your body. The best thing to do is to research each option and discuss with your health care provider what is best for you. The most effective methods are the...read more
When you have too much of prolactin in your blood, you can develop hyperprolactinemia. Prolactin is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, an organ the size of a pencil eraser at the base of the brain. The hormone plays a crucial role in breast development during...read more
Premature birth—babies born before 37 weeks—is a complicated problem with no single solution. About 380,000 babies are born prematurely annually in the U.S. Premature babies may face long-term health problems. Even women without risk factors can still have preterm...read more
Are you concerned about pregnancy and obesity? If so, you’re not alone. According to the CDC, one in four of pregnant women in the U.S. are considered overweight (a BMI between 25 and 29.9), at the beginning of pregnancy. Another quarter (25%) are considered obese (a...read more
Ovarian cancer is more treatable, and possibly curable, in its early stages. A recent study by the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition asked 1,531 women diagnosed with the disease to share their experience before and after diagnosis. Yet in all 44 countries surveyed, very...read more
Why is Taking Folic Acid so Important? Everyone needs folic acid. It helps red blood cells form and grow as well as makes and repairs DNA. For prenatal care, taking folic acid is essential for the growth of the spinal cord in the womb. Because the spinal cord is one...read more
Five Types of Non-Cancerous Benign Breast Conditions Does finding a lump in your breast always mean cancer? No, most breast changes—even lumps—are benign (non-cancerous). Some breast changes can cause symptoms that are like those from breast cancer, so it can be hard...read more