Should you have an annual pelvic exam?

By Hope Ricciotti, M.D., Editor in Chief

If you've come to expect a pelvic exam as a routine part of your annual well-woman physical, you may be surprised to learn that health experts disagree over whether it is necessary. The exam — in which the clinician inserts gloved fingers into the vagina to examine the cervix, uterus, and ovaries — has been routine for decades, but recently its benefits have been called into question.

In 2014 the American College of Physicians — an influential group of internal medicine specialists — issued a recommendation against routine pelvic examinations for women who aren't pregnant and have no unusual risk for or symptoms of pelvic diseases. However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has stood by its longstanding policy recommendation — annual pelvic exams for women ages 21 and older — based on expert opinion. In March 2017, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force — the pre-eminent medical guidelines organization — ruled that there is insufficient evidence to recommend either for or against annual screenings.

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