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Pelvic Exam

Overview

As a woman, it’s important to have regular pelvic exams to ensure the health of your reproductive organs. During this exam, usually done once a year, your gynecologist will examine your vulva, vagina, uterus and cervix. You’ll also have a Pap smear to make sure you don’t have early signs of cervical cancer. It’s a smart way to keep tabs on your health.

What to Expect

You’ll remove your clothes, lie on an examining table and put your feet in holders called stirrups. You’ll have a disposable sheet or robe for privacy. Your doctor will insert a tool called a speculum into your vagina, then widen it gently to examine your cervix. Your doctor will also use a swab to remove cells from your cervix and send them to a lab to test for cancer. The test is called a Pap smear.

It’s normal to feel a little discomfort. However, if the speculum or Pap smear is painful, tell your doctor. He or she will also examine your breasts and your abdomen and may test you for HPV (human papillomavirus, or genital warts). You’ll get your results within a few weeks.

If you’re 21 or older, your doctor will probably want you to have a pelvic exam every year until you’re 65. After that, you may need exams less often.

Prevention

Cervical cancer usually doesn’t cause symptoms in the early stages – but a Pap smear can detect abnormal cells even if you don’t notice anything unusual.  

As cervical cancer progresses, you can have: 

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding (after intercourse, after menopause or between periods)
  • Abnormally long, heavy periods 
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Unusual vaginal discharge 

If you notice any of these warning signs, call your doctor.

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