Annual Exams and Pap Smears
An annual gynecologic exam is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. It can help detect risk factors and problems early – ideally before the onset of symptoms. Women should visit their doctor once a year to have a history, risk assessment, physical exam, and possible lab/diagnostic testing. The physical exam at an annual gynecologic visit usually includes a breast exam, abdominal exam, and pelvic exam. The pelvic exam consists of a speculum exam to look at the vagina and cervix and a pelvic exam to feel the vagina, cervix, uterus and ovaries if they are still present. Sometimes a pelvic exam does not need to be performed at the annual visit, which is usually the case for a teenage girl who is not sexually active or one who is sexually active without any gynecological problems. In addition, a rectal exam may be performed, especially if the patient is over 50 years old. The physical exam may also include a Pap test and/or sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing.
Counseling at the annual exam will depend on a woman’s age, history, risk factors, and physical exam. For instance, the main discussion for an adolescent or young woman usually focuses on safe sex, including prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). For a post-menopausal woman the discussion mainly involves managing menopause symptoms, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise, prevention of osteoporosis, and keeping up with recommended screening tests such as mammograms.