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.
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