TUESDAY, July 24, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Recent cervical cancer screening guidelines say that most women no longer need annual Pap tests, but they still need annual well-woman exams with their obstetrician/gynecologist, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
In a committee opinion released Monday, the college outlines when women should undergo pelvic exams, which women need clinical breast exams and why the annual well-woman office visit is important.
The annual well-woman exam is an opportunity for doctors to counsel patients about following a healthy lifestyle and reducing health risks. The visit includes a physical exam that assesses overall health, including blood pressure and weight.
A pelvic exam is a common part of the ob-gyn visit and includes three parts: an external inspection, an internal speculum exam and a combination internal/external exam, according to an ACOG news release. Women should start undergoing annual pelvic exams at age 21.
Younger women should not undergo an internal exam unless they have signs of a menstrual disorder, vaginal discharge, pelvic pain, or other reproductive-related symptoms, the college says.
Screening for sexually transmitted infections can be done using urine samples or vaginal swabs without an internal exam.
Another important part of the well-woman visit is the clinical breast exam. These should be done every one to three years for women aged 20 to 39, according to ACOG and other health/medical groups. Women aged 40 and older should have annual clinical breast exams and annual mammograms, ACOG recommends.
Decisions on whether to perform internal pelvic exams and/or breast exams should always be made with the patient's consent, ACOG says.
The committee opinion appears in the August issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about women's health.