The annual gynecologic check-up consists of taking a detailed medical history, followed by a physical examination, a discussion of findings and creation of a plan for the future.
What is it and why is it so important?
What is the annual gynecological exam?
Each year, an annual exam should be performed. Included in this exam for most persons is an evaluation of the female organs, including the breasts, the vulva, vagina, cervix, uterus tubes, and ovaries to determine if they are healthy. The exam is an important part of preventive health and diagnosis of diseases, inflammation or infection of the genital tract. It also allows an opportunity for you to clarify any doubts about contraceptive methods, sexually transmitted infections, family planning, etc.
By performing these reviews periodically, at least once a year, the mortality of cancers in women, such as cervical, ovary, uterine or breast, may be decreased.
When should you go for a gynecological check-up?
Gynecologic checkups should begin at age 13-15 and occur at least once per year, even if no sexual activity has started. It is important for the younger teens to establish care with a gynecologist so that their questions and concerns can be addressed. Often, pelvic exams are not necessary in this age group unless there are specific problems. Pap smears are recommended at and after the age of 21. You should go for a check-up even when there are no symptoms of a problem.
What is done during a visit?
First, any problems or concerns are discussed. Then, the personal and family history is obtained. Next, an examination is performed which usually includes the head, neck, chest, heart, breasts, armpits, abdomen, back, genitals, and extremities. An internal exam is often not needed in younger teens unless there are problems.
Additional tests might include an ultrasound to visualize the internal organs such as the uterus and ovaries. More specialized tests are done as needed.
The Pap smear is a test for pre-cancer or cancer cells on the cervix. Often, testing for HPV or Human Papilloma Virus is performed at the same time. These tests are usually started at age 21. The spacing for these tests vary from person to person and will be determined by the gynecologist. The Pap test involves gently scraping the surface of the cervix to collect some of the cells from this area and the vagina for analysis. The result is usually available 1-2 weeks later and helps to determine if additional testing or treatment is needed.
Another part of the testing includes screening the breasts for masses or other abnormalities. It is helpful for you to let the gynecologist know if you have had any nipple discharge or skin changes, or if you have felt a bump.
Normally, mammography is started at the age of 40 and then performed every 1-2 years. These tests are usually performed at the local hospital or mobile unit. The radiologist often will include in their report your calculated lifetime risk for breast cancer. This calculation is determined by a computer model which takes many factors into consideration such as your breast density, family history, previous biopsies and other treatments. Some women with a higher risk will be recommended to have MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or ultrasound examination of the breasts in addition to the mammogram each year.
Thank you for reading the article which will hopefully raise awareness about these important exams.