Your Annual Gynecologist Visit Might Be a Waste of Your Time
How much do you love getting your annual pelvic exam? It's THE BEST. After spending most of the day in the waiting room you're finally invited to undress and put on a paper robe. So chic! Then you lie on the exam table for another eternity waiting for your doctor to show up and jack open your inner lady sanctum with a speculum followed by their gloved hand. And if you're lucky, ice-cold lube gel will be used. Oh joy. There's poking and prodding and a few "hmms" and then, all too soon, it's all over. Until next year!
What if I told you that this is all totally unnecessary? A new study by Annals of Internal Medicine boldly declares that there is no medical benefit to pelvic exams
for most healthy women. Not only do they fail to reduce "morbidity or
mortality of any condition," (i.e. they don't save lives), they may even
be harmful. Here's everything women should know about this new study.
1. What the study found. Researchers scoured through the last 70 years of pelvic exam studies and found no evidence that this exam saves the lives for otherwise normal, healthy women.
2. Pelvic exams may be harmful. In fact, the America College of Physicians now says that subjecting healthy women to these exams can “subject patients to unnecessary worry and follow-up” and can “cause anxiety, discomfort, pain, and embarrassment, especially in women who have a history of sexual abuse.” Keep in mind, they aren't saying pelvic exams ARE harmful.
3. What is a pelvic exam, anyway? This is an exam of your vulva, uterus, cervix, Fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder, and sometimes rectum.
4. You still should get a Pap smear on schedule. That's when the doctor takes a swab sample from your cervix to test for signs of cervical cancer, usually performed during your pelvic exam. And they've been proven to save lives. The American Cancer Society recommends women get a Pap smear every three to five years.
5. Some women should still get pelvic exams. For example, if you've been experiencing symptoms like pain during sex or unusual discharge, you might benefit from this test. Dr. George Sawaya, who co-wrote an editorial published with the new guidelines, says women should talk with their doctors about whether or not they need a pelvic exam.
As the pirates say, these are more guidelines. Dr. Kimberly Gesci, a gynecologist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center says she may start decreasing the number of pelvic exams she administers for asymptomatic patients (people who have no issues or symptoms). But she's not treating the statement as a hard and fast rule. "If a woman is completely asymptomatic and I don't feel like it's going to be useful, it's nice to have a recommendation backing up that feeling." Likewise, she says it's always appropriate for you to question your doctor about any treatment or exam, not just this one.
Will you keep getting pelvic exams, or are you glad to have a reason to stop getting them if you're otherwise perfectly healthy?