According to a new recommendation by a team of doctors and medical experts, that pelvic exam you (maybe) put off scheduling every year might not be super necessary or beneficial to your health, if you're an otherwise healthy woman.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force - a panel of physicians that advises the federal government on preventative care guidelines - said Tuesday that there's just not enough evidence than an annual pelvic exam actually decreases a healthy woman's chance of developing illnesses like ovarian cancer or of dying prematurely. Previously, gynecologists and obstetricians have defended the importance of annual exams, but in light of the task force's findings, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said it will revisit its guidelines on annual pelvic exams.
"ACOG recommends annual pelvic examinations for patients 21 years of age or older," reads a press release published yesterday. "However, the College recognizes that this recommendation is based on expert opinion, and limitations of the internal pelvic examination for screening should be recognized."
This new recommendation by the task force does not mean you should just start taking years off between pelvic exams. The task force notes that regular pelvic exams are still very important for pregnant women and women who have any pelvic symptoms, like pain and irregular bleeding. It's also worth noting that the task force still stresses the importance of regular cervical cancer screenings, but says those can be performed without a pelvic exam by "internal and external inspection by sight and touch."
You should also still be regularly tested for STIs, but again, those tests do not require a full pelvic exam. Some of the things pelvic exams screen for include: endometriosis, ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, warts, herpes, pelvic inflammatory disease, and cervical polyps. But research hasn't shown that it's better to treat those conditions before early symptoms appear, and a pelvic exam would be the thing that catches those things before they become symptomatic.
One of the benefits of skipping a year between pelvic exams would be that they tend to be uncomfortable and have a tendency to produce false positives. According to Maureen Phipps, chief of ob-gyn at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, false positive results of ovarian cancer often cause women to panic and undergo invasive, risky tests like biopsies and sometimes surgeries "for something that would never have affected her."
To figure out how this recommendation from the task force applies to you, you should talk with your gynecologist and set a plan that works for your own pelvic area. All vaginas are different and magical, and what's right for one person is not necessarily what's right for you.
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