Well Woman's Exam/Yearly Wellness Exam
Getting a yearly check up is important for everyone. As a woman, there are some other assessments to be done during your well woman’s exam in addition to checking your blood pressure, weight, immunization status, and overall health.
A breast exam is an important part of your yearly gynecology check up because it improves the chances of finding breast cancer early which is critical for early treatment and better chances of recovery.
For a breast exam, you’ll need to remove your shirt or blouse and bra. Your healthcare provider will begin by looking at your breasts noting any unusual texture, shape, dimpling or puckering of the skin, and discharge or bleeding from the nipples.
After observing your breasts for any unusual changes, your healthcare provider will then need to feel your breasts with their fingertips, including the nipples and your armpits. They will be looking for lumps, masses, and unusual tenderness.
A pelvic exam is done as part of your yearly gynecology check up
and only takes a few minutes. Although there is no special preparation you need to do for this exam, you may feel more comfortable scheduling this exam when you do not have your menstrual period. You may also want to empty your bladder of urine before the exam.
To do this assessment, you will be asked to remove your clothes and put on a gown. You will be asked to lie on your back on the exam table with your knees bent, move your body down to the end of the exam table, and place your feet in the foot supports while letting your knees fall apart.
Wearing clean disposable gloves, your healthcare provider will insert two fingers slowly into the vagina while pressing their other hand down on your lower abdomen. This will help the doctor or nurse determine the position of your uterus and cervix while noting any abnormalities. This may be uncomfortable for some women so be sure to tell your healthcare provider how you are feeling and try to relax your legs and bottom during the exam.
Pap Smear (Pap Test)
During your pelvic exam, your healthcare provider will also likely do a Pap smear. This is a test for precancerous cells and cancer of the cervix (the opening to the uterus) that may be contracted by certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) which is sexually transmitted. This test is recommended for most women every three years.
To do a Pap smear, an instrument that looks like a duck bill is inserted gently into the vagina so the doctor or nurse can see the cervix and take a small sample of cells to test. This can be uncomfortable for some women but the discomfort should quickly subside.
What to Expect During a Well Woman’s Visit
During this yearly visit, your doctor will be assessing different things depending on your age, medical history, history of sexual activity, and overall health.
Age 13 to 24
A well woman’s exam visit should start for young women once they begin their menstrual period or when they become sexually active with vaginal, anal, or oral sex. During these early visits, you may discuss birth control, your menstrual period, and any concerns you have about these topics with your doctor including heavy flow or if you have painful periods. Your healthcare provider may also recommend getting the HPV vaccine.
Age 25 to 39
At this time, your doctor will recommend a Pap smear every three years and possibly sooner if you are sexually active. A breast exam is also done yearly. If you have had a family history of breast cancer, a yearly mammogram may be recommended. Screening for sexually transmitted infections is also recommended if you have different sexual partners.
Age 40 to 70
Women age 40 to 70 should have a mammogram every 1 to 2 years. A Pap smear every three years is usually still recommended for most women. Screening for sexually transmitted infections is also done if you have different sexual partners. After menopause, screening for osteoporosis may also be done since estrogen levels decline predisposing you to fractured bones.
Screening for sexually transmitted infections is important if you have different sexual partners. Other tests and the shingles vaccine may be recommended as well.