What is a pelvic exam?
When performing a pelvic exam, your healthcare provider is evaluating your external genitalia, vagina, and the organs in the pelvic cavity. The strength of your pelvic floor and positioning of your bladder can also be assessed.
When do I have a pelvic exam?
Pelvic exams are performed yearly, at the time of your annual well-woman exam. Pelvic exams can also be performed any time you are having pelvic pain, concerns about sexual function, bowel and/or bladder leakage, or a personal concern with your vaginal health. A pelvic exam also may uncover medical conditions that are producing unreported or unnoticed symptoms.
What is a Pap smear?
A Pap smear is a cervical cancer screening used to detect any changes to the cells of a woman’s cervix using a small, soft brush and/or spatula. The brush collects the cells from the cervix. In females who have had a hysterectomy with removal of the cervix, the brush then collects cells from the vagina. Once the Pap is complete, the sample is sent to the lab for further evaluation under a microscope to look for any abnormalities and the result is then sent back to your medical provider.
Pap smears are a very reliable cervical cancer screening that can help find precancerous changes on the cervix that can be treated before cancer develops. It can also detect early cancer when its most reliable. Depending on a woman’s age, a screen for human papilloma virus (HPV) is also run off the Pap test.
When to have a Pap smear?
A pap smear is recommended on any woman starting at age 21 with a three-year interval between screenings. At age 30, if your Pap smear is normal and your negative for HPV, screening can be performed every five years. While it may be surprising to learn that most women do not need a Pap smear yearly, longer intervals between paps helps to avoid over-screening and false positive results. Your healthcare provider will let you know if there is need for closer interval screening. If you ever have an abnormal Pap smear, make sure to follow-up with your provider.
The confusion between a Pap smear and a pelvic exam is that you get a pelvic exam annually but only every 3-5 years is the Pap smear a necessary part of your pelvic exam. Always ask your trusted team at Lakeshore Women's Specialists if you have any questions. We're here to maximize your health and women's wellness.