How often should you be giving your gynecologist a visit? Once a year? Once every three years? It seems that the rules are constantly changing, and once a study comes out letting you know that you only have to go once every three years, another comes out saying that you need to go every year. So, let’s take a look at when you should be seeing your gynecologist.
What is a Pelvic Exam?
During a pelvic exam, your physician will check for signs of illness or abnormalities. The uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and bladder are checked during this pelvic exam. Unlike a Pap test, this is suggested to be performed once a year. A Pelvic Exam is not a Pap test, it’s important to remember this.
What’s a Pap smear?
A Pap smear, or Pap test, is a type of screening that checks for cancer of the cervix or any cervical abnormalities that might lead to cancer. During a Pap test, your gynecologist will look at the vulva as well as the cervix with a speculum. Your physician will check internal organs and will take a small sample of cells to examine for abnormalities.
How Often Should You Have a Pap and/or a Pelvic Exam?
As a general rule, all women should have a pelvic exam at least once per year. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, if you’re over 21 but under 29, you should have a pelvic exam once a year. This yearly visit should include a General Women’s Wellness Exam including a Pap smear. If you are between the ages of 30 to 64, it is recommended that you should have a pelvic exam every year, A Pap smear would be done every other year, or as often as your physician recommends at each appointment.
If you are 21 and older, you’ll want to visit your gynecologist for what’s called a pelvic exam and Pap Smear. If you are younger than 21, we still recommend that you meet with your gynecologist to start a relationship with them, getting comfortable with any questions you might have and topics you want to cover. Many times, for young women who are just entering puberty, pelvic exams are not required. We encourage family members to come with you on these first visits as well.
Keep in mind that the guidelines on when to get a Pap smear, a pelvic exam, and how often to see your gynecologist are always changing. Your best bet is to always consult with your OB GYN directly to see what their office guidelines are.
What is the Difference Between a Pap Test and Pelvic Exam?
While a Pap test will show abnormal cells and signs of cervical cancer, a Pelvic exam can check for skin cancers, diseases of the vulva, STD’s and different forms of cancer. While your Pap test can be performed every other year in some cases, your Pelvic exam absolutely must be performed every single year.
What is a General Women’s Wellness Exam?
At AOA, a Wellness Exam is recommended yearly, and includes not only breast and pelvic exams and pap smears, but addresses your individual needs, any concerns or questions you might have regarding sexuality, stress, parenting, family planning, and/or hormones.
Why Does My Recommended Visit Schedule Change After 30 Years Old?
If you’ve had normal Pap smears throughout your last three visits after the age of 30, do not have a history of dysplasia, is not HIV positive, and has not been exposed to diethylstilbestrol before birth, your physician might suggest a Pap smear every two years.
However, these recommendations are also based on your physician’s suggestion, how sexually active you are, and your overall health. You should also be aware of the following conditions that would warrant a call to your gynecologist:
- Changes in menstrual cycle
- Abnormal bleeding
- Vaginal pain or discomfort