Curejoy Expert Gina Hodge Explains:
A pelvic exam will involve your healthcare provider looking for signs of infection or any other conditions. It will most likely include taking a few cells from your cervix for a ‘Pap test’. A Pap test can find pre-cancerous cell changes of the cervix. Sometimes a Pap test is also called a Pap smear.
Pap tests are usually part of a regular pelvic exam. During a Pap test, your health care provider inserts a metal or plastic speculum into your vagina. The speculum is opened to separate the walls of the vagina so that the cervix can be seen. The health care provider then uses a small sampler — a spatula or tiny brush — to gently collect cells from the cervix. The cells are sent to the laboratory to be tested. Detecting problems early can help you get the treatment you need to keep healthy.
After your first pelvic exam, your health care provider will tell you how often you should have gynecological care, including pelvic exams. How often you need exams will depend on your medical history and personal health needs. Generally, a Pap smear is recommended for women from 21 years of age. Women ages 21-65 should have routine screening with Pap test every three years. Combining a Pap test with a human papillomavirus (HPV) test can safely extend the interval between cervical cancer screenings from three years to five years in many women between the ages of 30-65, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).
Also according to USPSTF guidelines, HPV testing is not recommended for women in their 20s because people in that age group can have HPV infections that resolve without treatment.
But please note that may need more frequent pelvic exams if you have a history of abnormal Pap test results a history of sexual health problems a family history of certain kinds of cancer a sexually transmitted infection or a sex partner with an infection recurrent vaginitis. In some cases, a pelvic exam is needed in order to prescribe hormonal birth control — the pill, the patch, the ring, or the shot. A pelvic exam is always needed for inserting an IUD or fitting a diaphragm.