Most women get annual pelvic exams–60 million in 2010–but it might be time to stop. There is no proof that an annual pelvic exam offers benefits. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has just issued a draft opinion that evidence is lacking to show that an annual pelvic exam has a significant benefit to the health or lifespan of healthy women over 18, except pregnant women.
The USPSTF found insufficient proof that pelvic exams help with early detection and treatment of a variety of conditions. There is little evidence of the accuracy of the tests. And, there is also little evidence that early detection and treatment either reduced the likelihood of disease or dying prematurely, or improved quality of health.
The task force also found no evidence of risks from pelvic exams. However, it did find some likelihood of false positives from the exam that lead to unnecessary surgeries. It gave pelvic exams a grade of “I” for indeterminate because of the lack of evidence.
Pelvic exams are given because it has been thought that they can detect uterine, cervical, vaginal and ovarian cancers as well as infectious diseases such as genital warts and genital herpes, and uterine fibroids.
Current guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and ACOG recommend screening for cervical cancer beginning at age 21 and every 3 years thereafter until age 30; after age 30, 5-year intervals are recommended for most women not at high risk of this disease. Medicare pays for cervical exams, including Pap tests, pelvic exams, and clinical breast exams, once every 24 months for all women and once every year for people at high risk for cervical or vaginal cancer, or if you’re of childbearing age and have had an abnormal Pap test in the past three years.
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