Expert Health Articles

The Benefits of Annual Pelvic Exams

Jodi Bollenbacher, PA-C

Blanchard Valley Obstetrics & Gynecology

Annual pelvic exams for females of all ages are vitally important. As Pap smear guidelines have changed, some women assume they do not need to see their local gynecologist every year. However, your preventive visit is about much more than periodically screening for cervical cancer with a Pap smear.

There are many benefits to visiting your gynecologist’s office each year such as:

  • Counseling about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and minimizing health risks. Experts agree there are substantial individual and system-wide cost-savings in prevention. Nutrition and fitness remain the foundation to weight management, prevention of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
  • Screening for sexually transmitted diseases (STD), which can lead to sterility or life-long pelvic pain if left untreated.
  • Evaluating your cardiovascular risk factors (hypertension, obesity, diabetes, elevated lipids) and encouraging tobacco cessation.
  • Discussing your bone health. Building and maintaining bone through life can substantially reduce risk. Osteoporosis remains a leading cause of disability in seniors.
  • Discussing sexual function/abuse/domestic violence.
  • Explaining your contraceptive options.
  • Reviewing your immunization status based on age and risk factors.
  • Screening for breast, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar cancer.

Along with these benefits, annual pelvic exams are conducted as a preventative measure. Remember:

  • Vaginal cancers will be missed without a speculum exam. Just like no one objects to your dentist screening you twice a year for oral cancer, pelvic exams are just as encouraged. More than 3,000 cases of vaginal cancer are diagnosed each year. Regular screening can help detect this type of cancer earlier. If cancer is detected early, five-year survival rates are 84 percent. With advanced stages, survival rates drop to about 50 percent.
  • Vulvar pre-cancer and cancer often do not have symptoms and may only be detected as part of a thorough preventive exam. Unfortunately, vulvar cancer is more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage in older women.
  • An examination may reveal hidden problems that patients are too embarrassed to discuss, such as bladder prolapse, urinary incontinence or fecal incontinence.
  • Perimenopausal women may have dry vaginal tissue seen on exam. Therapy can be started before symptoms worsen.
  • Women with a history of precancerous changes of the cervix, vagina or vulva should also have a regular pelvic exam to ensure the disease has not returned.

Please call to schedule your annual exam with your gynecologist today. Your health depends on it!