An annual routine gynecological exam is one of the most important appointments a woman can make. In addition to the standard breast and pelvic exams, women are asked about their recent health history and maintenance.
Although is it a routine visit, the gynecologist wants to know whether the patient has experienced any medical problems. Even a seemingly minor issue, such as light postmenopausal spotting, can turn out to have serious consequences. Annual gynecological exams have saved the lives of countless women.
Part of a gynecological exam is not an actual exam, but an assessment of a woman’s reproductive cancer risk. It is especially important for women who have first-degree female relatives – mothers, sisters, daughters – who have been diagnosed with breast cancer or cancers of the reproductive system.
Genetic testing reveals whether these women have the BRCA gene mutation, which greatly increases the risk of developing breast or ovarian cancers. The gynecologist discusses the risk assessment and advises the patient on her options.
Women know that the Pap test, or smear, is part of a gynecological exam, but they may not realize its significance. The Pap smear involves taking cell samples from the cervix, the lower part of the uterus. The gynecologist uses a speculum for vaginal widening and cell collection.
The sample is then tested for the presence of cervical cancer cells. These same cells may be used to detect the presence of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer. An HPV vaccine is available to protect against this type of cancer.
Pap smear results are generally available within a week. If the test results were abnormal, the doctor contacts the patient for a follow-up visit. Women should not panic if told results were abnormal – that does not necessarily mean cancer. Treatment can prevent cervical cancer from developing.
Examination of the breasts for any lumps or changes is part of the gynecological exam. The doctor instructs the woman on how to conduct a monthly breast self-exam. If she discovers anything out of the ordinary during these self-examinations, a visit to the gynecologist is needed. The doctor will discuss the need for mammography with each patient based on her age and risk factors.
The pelvic examination consists of an internal and external portion. The outer portion is a visual inspection of the vulva, to check for any abnormalities. The internal exam – during which the Pap test is performed – includes use of the speculum to check the vagina and cervix, and a manual exam of the vagina, cervix, and uterus. The doctor is checking for any masses in the organs.
The gynecological exam is also an opportunity for the woman to discuss birth control options with her doctor. Together, they can go over the best family planning methods based on her health and lifestyle. If the patient is dissatisfied with her current birth control choice, this is a time to consider changes.
Women intending to go off birth control and become pregnant can also discuss any fertility risks they may face due to age or reproductive system issues, such as endometriosis or fibroids.
If you would like to schedule a gynecological exam or need any type of gynecological services, please call our office today.