The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that a woman make her first appointment with a gynecologist when she is between the ages of 13 and 15. While not all women will need a pelvic exam on their first visit, it is recommended by womenshealth.gov that all women have regular pelvic exams beginning at age 21.
The Pelvic Exam-A Key Preventative Measure
By Jenni Frankenberg Veal
A pelvic examination is a complete physical examination of a woman’s pelvic organs by a health professional. Pelvic exams are performed during a yearly physical exam. They are also commonly performed before prescribing a method of birth control, when a woman is pregnant, when a doctor is checking for an infection or sexually transmitted disease, or when a woman is having pain in her pelvic area or lower back.
Pelvic exams help doctors identify early stages of cancer, infections, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and other reproductive system problems. According to the National Cancer Institute, the best time for a woman to schedule a pelvic exam and to obtain accurate results is one or two weeks after her period. She should also refrain from sexual intercourse for at least 24 hours prior to an examination.
During the pelvic exam, the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder and rectum are felt to find any abnormality in shape or size. An instrument called a speculum is used to widen the vagina so that the upper portion of the vagina and the cervix can be seen. Generally, a female nurse or assistant will stay in the room during a pelvic exam. A woman may also request the presence of her partner or a friend.
Because precancerous conditions of the cervix seldom cause symptoms, a pelvic examination and Pap smear are usually required to detect problems. If the Pap smear results are normal, this means cells from the cervix look normal. Conversely, if the Pap smear results are abnormal, the cells from the cervix look abnormal. However, an abnormal Pap smear does not necessarily mean that cancer cells were found. There are many causes for abnormal Pap smear results, including infections, inflammation related to sex or using a diaphragm, and changes related to the menstrual cycle.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Pap smear testing should begin at age 21, and women between the ages of 21 and 29 should be tested every two years. For women 30 years and older who have had three consecutive normal screening test results, testing can be done every three years.
It is important for a woman to find a health care professional who puts her at ease and who she feels she can talk openly to about female health problems and sexuality. If a woman has had problems with pelvic exams in the past or has experienced sexual abuse, she should talk to her health professional about her fears before her pelvic exam.
The pelvic exam may be a little uncomfortable. However, it should not be painful, and it is a relatively short procedure. A woman should tell her doctor if she experiences any pain.