Preventative care is essential to optimal women’s health. It can screen for health conditions and initiate medical interventions and treatment before they become debilitating or life-threatening.
When it comes to women’s reproductive and overall health, a few of the most common preventative medical assessments and procedures are the basic physical exam, pap smear, and mammograms.
What’s a Pap Smear and Pelvic Exam?
A pap smear is a procedure in which a speculum is inserted into the vagina to open it enough to access the cervix and screen for conditions such as human papillomavirus (HPV), cervical cancer, and cervical dysplasia. With the speculum in the vagina, the physician then uses a soft swab or spatula to gently scrape cells from the cervix to send to a lab. Results are typically available within a week.
Pap smears are often done in conjunction with a routine pelvic exam. A pelvic exam is a physical assessment of the pelvic organs, including the vagina, cervix, external palpation of the ovaries, and the rectum. This assessment can diagnose conditions related to pelvic pain, irregular periods, or heavy bleeding with or between menstruation, such as endometriosis, bacterial vaginosis, uterine fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and some sexually transmitted infections. The rectum is also checked for palpable masses such as tumors, hemorrhoids, and anal fissures.
Women ages 21-65 should have a pap smear and routine pelvic exam every 3-5 years, while women younger than 21 and over age 65 may not require these procedures. Talk with your doctor to determine what care is appropriate for you.
What to Expect with a Physical Exam
A Physical exam, an external assessment of all body systems, is recommended every 1-2 years for women ages 30 and up. This exam provides a baseline for your healthcare provider to track as you age. Pap smears and pelvic exams can be performed during a physical exam. A physical exam will include:
- Checking and recording your vital signs
- A head-to-toe assessment
- Lab work (blood and/or urine)
- Vaccination updates
- Medication review and update
- Referrals to specialists, if needed, for further procedures such as bone density scan, colonoscopy, EKG, and mammogram
Mammogram: Preventative and Diagnostic Breast Imaging
Referral to an imaging specialist for a mammogram is recommended annually for women ages 40 and up. A mammogram is a type of x-ray specifically for breast tissue that screens for conditions such as breast cancer, cysts, fibroids, and other issues. Women with a personal or family history of breast cancer should consult with their doctor about when to consider annual mammograms because such a history may determine the recommendation for this screening to start at a younger age.
Make Your Appointment
At Prosperity Internal Medicine, services are offered for physical exams, pap smears, and pelvic exams, among several other services offered specifically surrounding women’s reproductive health. Call to make an appointment and discuss any questions or concerns with our physicians.