"ACO reviewed 60 years of research and found no compelling evidence that routine exams serves catch cancer or other conditions in asymptomatic patients." Image: Thinkstock
If you’re like me, you’ve probably been getting annual pelvic exams since you were a teenager. You did this because conventional wisdom told you that you needed a Pap smear and a physical exam to keep your vagina and uterus up and running. Also, your doctor probably held your birth control prescription hostage every year until you came in to get checked out.
None of this is a bad idea, because preventative medical care is generally a positive. But… pelvic exams are fairly fraught. Even if you don’t have any issues around having your genitals examined, it’s still a stressful appointment on the annual calendar. For people who have anxiety, have suffered medical or sexual trauma, are transgender or gender non-conforming, or have any number of other reasons, pelvic exams are a source of real trouble.
That’s why it’s good news that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is advising the government to review the recommendation for annual gynecological exams for patients who are not pregnant or exhibiting troubling symptoms. The Washington Post reports that the USPSTF is calling for more research into the practice to see what the actual benefits are versus the harms that can result.
In 2014, the American College of Physicians came out with similar reservations about pelvic exams. ACO reviewed 60 years of research and found no compelling evidence that routine exams serves catch cancer or other conditions in asymptomatic patients.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is a dissenting voice, suggesting that the decision about annual pelvic exams lies with doctors and patients. A valid and rational viewpoint that would be easier to implement if insurance companies didn’t make the end decision about what’s covered (i.e. paid for) and what is not.
We’ll see if this leads to changes in the recommended frequency of pelvic exams. It might go the way of Pap smears and become something an asymptomatic patient can do every three years or so. Or maybe the recommendation will stand with the understanding that it’s really a recommendation that insurers cover pelvic exams as often as a doctor and patient decide to do them, not a hard and fast rule that everyone has to follow.
One thing is for sure, if I can avoid exams for a few years, I’ll happily do so!