I Don’t Need a PAP Test. Do I Still Need a Women’s Health Check Up?
You’ve heard, with better understanding of abnormal paps, that you no longer need testing every year. That’s true. But do you need to see a women’s health clinician regularly? For some Comprehensive Wellness patients reading this, the answer is “no”—because you’re men. For the rest of you, the answer can be confusing. First, a little history of the confusion, then a few points that might direct you to visit your women’s health specialist.
We’ve heard the pretext of “needing a pap test” as the reason to schedule your annual gynecology exam. We are now finding that that logic may be hurting women. A pap test is about one disease—cancer, and only one body part—the uterine cervix. We can all agree there is much more to being a woman! Yet, in 2014 the American College of Physicians said healthy women do not need annual pelvic/gyn exams. Almost immediately the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists responded recommending that women do have annual specialty appointments. Neither organization is without bias. What does the research say?
A recently published study looked at charts for 283 women over 40 years of age who came in for “well women” exams. The majority of the women were diagnosed with new gynecological conditions resulting in education, prescriptions, and work-ups. In other words, they identified issues that otherwise would likely have gone untreated. What are just some of the reasons for a regular checkup?
- Dry vagina Yes, we get to say vagina in our multidisciplinary newsletter. For some women this occurs at any age, but for the majority it starts during the menopause transition. Unlike other symptoms, it progressively worsens; if left untreated, the structure of the genitalia experiences non-reversible changes. Even women without symptoms can have changes.
- Pelvic masses. Relax. Most pelvic masses are not cancer and, unfortunately, the exam isn’t great at finding ovarian cancer small enough for the most successful treatment. However, even benign masses can cause problems with urination or bowel movements, feeling full, heavy periods, or painful sex.
- Leaking urine. Probably 80% of incontinence can be fixed without surgery. And it is not a normal part of aging. You need someone you can talk to about this so that you can get help.
- Menstrual changes. Your menstrual cycle may become irregular or you may have heavier bleeding. While some changes can be normal, all menstrual changes merit attention.
- Life stages. Though risks of birth control don’t change over time, women do! New health issues and life plans tweak not only the safety of methods, but also the added benefits. Clearing up myths about transitioning into menopause and maximizing the next third of your life needs individual teaching and planning.
But perhaps the most important reason to get an annual gynecology check-up—one hour each year dedicated to being the healthiest woman you can be—you deserve it!