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Q: My gynecologist told me that I no longer need an annual exam. Is that safe?

For a generation, women were told that they needed to get an annual pelvic exam in order to catch cancers and other problems early. That started to change about five years ago, when the American College of Physicians officially recommended that healthy women did not need routine pelvic exams, and that these internal exams should only be conducted as needed. Why the change? Studies found that these exams caused women stress and discomfort, and sometimes led to unnecessary medical procedures—while not offering any real benefit.

Doctors aren't all in agreement. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists still recommends getting an annual pelvic exam, even though it acknowledges there is no evidence that it makes a difference. This exam can often lead to the diagnosis of asymptomatic infections or lesions that may need treatment. Most gynecologists still do this procedure every year.

The recommendation for pap screening has also scaled back. Women once got a pap test every year. Now the American College of Physicians recommends women get a Pap test every three years starting at age 21. After they turn 30, they can choose to get a Pap test once every three years of they are screened for HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) at the same time. After turning 65, patients that are not high risk can stop Pap screening. While healthy, low risk women don't need to be screened as often, doctors might recommend more regular testing for women who are experiencing health problems or who are at higher risk.

Stacy R. Ammerman, DO

Obstetrics & Gynecology

Maui Lani Physicians and Surgeons
Maui Lani Physicians and Surgeons
165 Ma'a St.
Kahului, HI 96732