You May Not Need This Yearly Health Exam, After All

Photographed by Megan Madden.
If stirrups and a speculum aren't your idea of fun, we have good news. Apparently, the annual pelvic exam might not be all that necessary after all — for women who aren't pregnant and who have no symptoms of disease, at least.
On Tuesday the journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA, posted a recommendation statement that said that while a pelvic exam is usually a part of your physical exam, it's unclear whether performing these exams yearly really has any benefits (or drawbacks, for that matter).
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Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD, MAS, who chaired the the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force panel to evaluate advice on pelvic exams, told NPR that there wasn't solid evidence one way or another.
"We basically concluded that we didn't have enough evidence to recommend for or against," she said.
Without that evidence, the panel advised that each woman checks with her doctor on whether or not they need an exam each year, taking into account her medical history, age, and other factors. Typically, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends the exam annually for women 21 and older. But in 2014, the American College of Physicians sent out its own guidelines, arguing that such exams might not accurately detect ovarian cancer.
A pelvic exam, usually performed by an OB-GYN, checks the overall health of your reproductive system, as well as checking for cervical cancer with a pap smear. In 2013, it was found that pap smears might not be necessary every year, either.
While the federal recommendation still stands, Bobbins-Domingo told NPR that it comes down to each individual person and their body.
"If a woman has concern about anything going on with her body she should absolutely schedule a visit with her doctor, and doctors should do the appropriate exams to understand symptoms," she said.
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