The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued guidelines in 2012 stating that most women over age 65 no longer need an annual Pap smear to screen for cervical cancer. Many women may have viewed this as a reason to completely forgo their annual well-woman visit to the gynecologist. However, women should recognize that an annual gynecological exam is much more than a Pap smear. Just because a woman is of a certain age does not mean she is immune to certain illnesses. Women over age 65 need to pay attention to their vaginal health just as much as young women do.
The Importance of an Annual Gynecological Exam
In August of 2012, The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) stressed the importance of the annual assessment. They stated that it is a fundamental part of women’s medical care. “A woman might not need an annual Pap smear, but she still needs an exam to check the vagina, the bladder, the rectum, the external genitals — and, of course, the uterus and ovaries, if they haven’t been removed.” Another important reason to get a yearly gynecological examination is for the clinical breast exam. ACOG recommends that women 40 and older have annual mammograms and clinical breast exams.
What Does A Gynecological Exam Screen For?
Annual visits to the gynecologist serve as a good screening tool for some of the most common forms of cancer in women. The incidence of cervical cancer decreases over the age of 55. However, a woman’s risk for uterine, ovarian, and breast cancer increases. These are all very treatable forms of cancer, but the key is to catch them early on.
An annual gynecological exam is not only important for catching cancers early on, it is also good for overcoming common symptoms of aging. Bladder and bowel issues and problems with sexual functioning can all be addressed. The exam can also serve as a time to ask questions. Diagnosing and treating issues before symptoms appear can be beneficial to preventing more significant health problems. Take care of yourselves and your health, ladies!
Nicole DeBrie, PT, DPT