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For millions of teenage girls and women, the annual pelvic examination has long been considered a necessary annoyance, but now, a new study suggests that in some cases, this invasive procedure is no longer needed.

Recently, the American College of Physicians announced new guidelines that suggest non-pregnant adult women who are involved in monogamous relationships who have no prior history of disease, can skip the annual exam saying, ” A review of the exams found they rarely catch disease but are costly, uncomfortable and even embarrassing.”

As Dr. Nancy Snyderman pointed out in the video, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists remains in favor of an annual exam.

Pap smears are still important
The Pap smear test, which screens for cervical cancer, should still be completed every three to five years, unless your gynecologist instructs otherwise based on your personal medical history.

“It is a fairly straightforward, simple guideline,” says Dr. Linda Humphrey, co-author of the guidelines published in Annals of Internal Medicine. The review found that pelvic exams rarely detected ovarian cancer or bacterial infection and did not reduce mortality, yet they add $2.6 billion in “unnecessary costs to the health care system.”

New guidelines recommends a pelvic exam only for women with symptoms including:

  • Vaginal discharge
  • Abnormal bleeding
  • Pain,
  • Urinary problems
  • Sexual dysfunction

The journal article says cervical cancer screening should be limited to visual inspection of the cervix and swabbing the cervix for cancer and human papillomavirus, but manual examination is not necessary.

Why OBGYNs say the exam is beneficial

Though the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists may agree with the new research findings, they still contend that the annual pelvic examination is a good way to detect other troublesome women’s issues, even if those aren’t necessary life-threatening. A few of these include – incontinence, menopausal issues, and possible sexual dysfunction. A woman who might not otherwise be forthcoming with embarrassing issues, might be open to the discussion if the doctor mentions what he/she saw during the exam.

It is important to note that the new research/guidelines on annual pelvic exams were studied and written by the American College of Physicians, whose group is comprised of internists, not obstetricians or gynecologists.