Pelvic exams to check a woman’s vagina and uterus for medical problems have been performed for millennia. There are versions of the speculum (a device that aids in the examination) in textbooks from the time of the famous Greek physician Galen in 130 AD.
In the 20th century, the exam was often an unwelcome rite of passage for teenage girls.
But in this century, there are new guidelines — supported by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Cancer Society — that clearly state pelvic exams and cervical cancer screenings are no longer routinely recommended for most females under the age of 21.
Unfortunately, a new study by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with colleagues from the University of California-San Francisco, estimate that more than half of the 2.6 million pelvic exams given to young women ages 15 to 20 annually — that’s 1.4 million of them — are potentially unnecessary.
The exams aren’t needed to prescribe most contraceptives, and are often unnecessary for diagnosing sexually transmitted diseases. Plus, the potential for false-positive test results, overdiagnosis, anxiety, and unnecessary costs are enormous.
Parents, be aware of these guidelines and help your daughters get the medical attention they need without subjecting them to unnecessary exams.
Young women: It may be tough, but tell your doctor no, unless you’re given a medically specific reason for the exam or test.