Questions you’ve always wanted to ask your OB/GYN (but were afraid to ask): Yearly Exam

November 12, 2010

Ok ladies, let’s be honest.  We’ve all had questions related to OB/GYN issues that we didn’t feel like actually asking anyone–even our doctor.  Maybe you’ve asked your friends or read magazine articles but wondered if you were getting accurate information.  We, the OB/GYN doctors at Women’s Health Associates, decided to bypass the question asking and simply address several sensitive questions by giving a series of presentations in the Kansas City area.  We found that women were very receptive to this topic and wanted to hear the answers as long as they didn’t have to ask the questions.  Over the next several blog entries, we’ll be addressing OB/GYN issues you may have questions about.  You’ll get the facts you need without having to ask the questions!        

Do I really need a yearly exam every year?  Why?

The answer is yes!  A yearly exam provides you with a complete gynecological checkup at a regular interval.  During a yearly exam, your doctor checks for any abnormalities in your pelvic area and breasts, and a pap smear is performed to check for abnormal cells that could lead to cervical cancer.  A pelvic exam consists of your doctor feeling your uterus and ovaries in order to check for enlargement or masses, and your doctor will also examine your genital area visually for any lesions.  During a breast exam, your breasts are palpated to check for masses and your lymph nodes are checked for enlargement.  To perform a pap smear, your doctor will insert a speculum into the vagina and then use a small brush in order to get a sample of cervical cells.  The cells are then sent to a laboratory to be screened.  In addition, yearly exams give you the opportunity to ask personal health questions and discuss health concerns with your doctor. Yearly gynecological exams are important so that any abnormality or problem can be recognized and treated as soon as possible.    

Do I still need a pap smear if I’ve had the Gardasil vaccine?

Yes.  Gardasil is a vaccine that helps protect you from four strains of Human Papillomavirus, or HPV.  Gardasil protects against the two strains of HPV that are most likely to cause cervical cancer, as well as two strains of HPV that cause genital warts.  This protection is beneficial, but keep in mind that there are over 100 strains of HPV.  A pap smear screens for abnormal cervical cells, which can develop from other strains of HPV or separately from HPV entirely, and detects cell changes that may be an early sign of pre-cancer of the cervix. 

What should I do to smell better / look better “down there” for the doctor?

Simply take a shower.  You don’t need to do anything extra before coming in for an exam.  We recommend that you don’t douche (ever) because douching can actually bring on vaginal infections.  For the 24 hours prior to your exam, you should avoid having intercourse and using vaginal medications, spermicides, or lubrication.  Also, make sure to schedule your exam for a day when you won’t be on your period.  

May I keep my socks and/or shoes on during my exam?

Yes.  Socks and shoes may be left on, but all other clothing items need to be removed for the exam.

Why do pap smears and vaginal exams sometimes hurt?

Pap smears and vaginal exams can be uncomfortable for many reasons including vaginal dryness, vaginal infection, or anxiety.  Placing a speculum in the vagina exerts some pressure on the vagina, which can cause discomfort for some people.  We tell women that they may feel some pressure during the exam, and most women find pap smears and vaginal exams tolerable when this is explained beforehand. 

We hope you find the above information about yearly exams helpful.  Over the next several blog entries, we’ll be addressing many more OB/GYN issues you may have questions about.  Check back to learn the answers without having to ask the questions!