When and How often? On Getting Breast and Pelvic Exams
We all know that we should go to the doctor at least once a year for a health checkup and screenings for major conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. But did you know that women do not necessarily need a pelvic and breast exam every year?
When should I get pelvic and breast exams?
Beginning at age 21 until age 30, women should have a clinical breast exam, pelvic exam and Pap smear every 3 years to screen for breast and cervical cancer.
Beginning at age 30, we also recommend screening for HPV, a virus that is known to be a major cause of cervical cancer. If your Pap smear and HPV screening tests are normal, you will only need to repeat these screening tests every 5 years!
With every pelvic exam, we will also perform a clinical breast exam to check for any suspicious masses and other breast changes. Clinical breast exams may be performed more routinely than Pap smears and HPV testing. However, we recommend that women perform monthly self breast exams around the 7th day of their cycles. Your doctor can show you how, and it only takes a couple of minutes. You know your body best and can alert your doctor to any changes that you notice.
What are some exceptions?
If you have had your uterus and cervix removed and you have not been diagnosed with cervical cancer in the past, you may not need to have Pap smears.
If any of your findings on a screening exam are positive, we will recommend further follow-up testing, as well as more frequent exams than the screening timelines described above.
If you are over age 65 and have had 3 negative tests in the past 10 years, you may not need further Pap smears.
What are some other screening exams I should get?
If you are sexually active, have multiple partners, and/or engage in what may be interpreted as high-risk behavior, your doctor may screen for common sexually transmitted illnesses, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV.
If you have not had any recent blood work performed, we may recommend some tests to check for anemia, cholesterol levels, and diabetes, among other health indicators.
You may also receive and screening questionnaires for depression and anxiety, as well as for alcohol use.
Talk to us if you have a direct relative diagnosed with breast cancer, family or personal history of colon or bowel disease, or have a history of bone fractures. Adults ages 50 and 75 will generally need additional screening exams for breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and osteoporosis.