You know that feeling. You get a voicemail, and it’s the secretary at your own personal gynecologist’s office calling to remind you to make an appointment for your annual pelvic exam appointment.
Ugh, how annoying. You make the appointment; you show up (on time), you wait an extra twenty minutes… plus an extra ten in the actual exam room. You have to get all undresses and put on the most uncomfortable paper dress. Honestly, wouldn’t life be great if you never had to go through this process?
Well, you may be in luck. A number of doctors are now saying that your yearly pelvic exam may not exactly be necessary. Apparently, bimanual exams are not effective for screening for neither ovarian cancer nor STDs. In fact, doing a urine test and getting vaginal swabs are better methods than full-on pelvic exams for STD screenings. Plus, according to the CDC, ovarian cancer can’t be detected by a bimanual exam alone.
So, why exactly have we all been going through this annual torture? Who knows, especially since pap smear guidelines change, on average, about every three years.
Harvard-trained integrative physician and gynecologist Sara Gottfried, MD, OB/GYN author of The Hormone Cure, agrees that visiting your doc on the reg is still essential.
"You still need the urine test for STDs up to age 26 or if you're high risk, and you still need pap smears," she says. "There's also the importance of looking at the external and internal female anatomy to make sure there aren't any lesions that a patient cannot see."
But Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN, NP, author of Is It Me or My Hormones?, believes the issue goes beyond whether or not an exam is necessary and is more about what's lacking as far as the women's health care system goes.
"Many of my patients get much more out of the information and guidance I offer about prevention with respect to nutrition and lifestyle than from the actual annual exams, but this is not covered by insurance if no annual is performed," she says. "It would be wonderful if we could change the system so that we are paid for prevention and also can be seen as experts that can teach women how to learn to listen to their bodies and become more aware when things are not working they way they know they should."
I’m just as confused as I was before.
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