Do You Really Need a Pelvic Exam Every Year?
Earlier this year, the American College of Physicians (ACP) concluded that women who aren't pregnant (expectant mothers typically get a pelvic exam at the beginning and end of pregnancy) or experiencing unusual symptoms (like discharge or abnormal bleeding) don't need a pelvic exam. ACP says the exam, in which a gynecologist visually and manually checks the reproductive organs, doesn't reduce death rates and rarely detects diseases like cancer—and therefore isn't worth the anxiety and discomfort it causes many patients.
Does Anyone Disagree?
Yes, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the organization many ob-gyns look to for medical guidelines, does. ACOG acknowledges that the exam does not reduce mortality, but says the screening tool can alert patients to undiagnosed issues such as fibroids and cysts (which would likely go undetected unless symptoms developed).
So What Should I Do?
The decision is one you'll have to make with your doctor, but Washington, D.C., ob-gyn Sharon Malone, MD, says she still advises her patients to make a pelvic exam part of their annual visit. "The exam allows me to identify conditions that might not be urgent but need to be monitored," she says. "For instance, if someone has fibroids, a pelvic exam can help me track whether they're getting larger or smaller from year to year. And many patients may not feel comfortable discussing vaginal dryness, but during the exam I can pick up on it. Then we can get to the root of the problem."