When we go for our gynecological check-up, most women expect a pelvic exam. That has been part of our routine care for decades. But a new study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology suggests that doctors may misunderstand the reasons for this common exam.
According to researchers at the University of California San Francisco, many doctors think a pelvic exam is an important tool in screening for ovarian cancer. But they say that the medical community is currently questioning whether the exam is necessary for women with no problems such as pelvic pain or unexplained bleeding.
The researchers surveyed 521 practicing physicians who were gynecologists or obstetricians or both. They found that nearly all the doctors would routinely conduct the exam even in women who had no symptoms.
The vast majority of the doctors surveyed – 87 percent – said they would perform the exam on healthy 18-year-olds even though current recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that the exam should not become routine until the age of 21.
Most also said that they would perform the exam on a 55-year-old woman with no ovaries, uterus or cervix.
Many of the doctors surveyed said they performed the exam not only to screen for cancer, but also because patients expected it and were reassured that their doctors were doing everything they could to screen for early signs of disease.
Next time you see your doctor, ask for his or her opinion on the effectiveness and usefulness of pelvic exams.