For general information about preventive healthcare at Tang, including recommended screening tests and immunizations and how to schedule, see the Preventive Health Page.
We recommend that all people consider a once yearly Wellness/Preventive Health Visit with a clinician to discuss health concerns and to determine if any needed vaccinations or health screening tests are recommended, particularly if they are sexually active. Please note that wellness care takes time to do well. If you have multiple concerns or complicated problems, your clinician will ask you to make a separate appointment.
If you have a cervix, you may need a PAP/pelvic exam for cervical cancer screening, depending on your age, sexual practices, and family/medical history. These are now scheduled separately since new guidelines do not recommend starting PAP smears until age 21 and with less frequency thereafter. Read more below.
Pelvic exam basics
Routine pelvic or "gynecologic" exams are a very important part of health care. This exam provides an opportunity for your clinician to detect and test for abnormalities of the breast, vulva, vagina, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and colon.
You may need more frequent pelvic exams if you have:
- a history of abnormal PAP test results
- a history of sexual health problems or risks
- a family history of certain kinds of cancer
- a sexually transmitted infection or a sex partner with an infection
- recurrent vaginal infections or other symptoms
- or are interested in an insertable contraceptive device like an IUD or diaphragm
Avoid having a routine pelvic exam or PAP smear during your menstrual period. Menstrual blood can affect some laboratory test results. For most people, the most comfortable time to have a gynecologic exam is right after your period ends. Avoid having sexual intercourse or inserting any vaginal medications for about 24 hours before your exam.
How it's done: Speculum exam and PAP smears
To visualize the vagina and cervix, your clinician will use a vaginal speculum. This speculum is placed into your vaginal opening and after applying gentle pressure to open the speculum, the vaginal walls and cervix can be seen. This portion of the exam is short and will usually not last more than a few minutes. Your clinician may also perform a physical exam of your external genital anatomy and may place 1 or 2 fingers into your vagina while pressing on your abdomen to feel the mobility and size of your uterus and ovaries.
PAP smears, which screen for cervical cancer, generally start at age 21 for most people and are indicated every 3 years until age 29, then every 5 years from aged 30 on along with HPV co-testing. More frequent screening may be needed in some circumstances. A brush is used to gently swab your cervix and the cells are visualized under a microscope for any abnormalities.
For more information about Pelvic Exams and PAP tests
How it's done: Breast exam
In addition to the gynecological exam, clinicians may also perform a clinical breast exam in order to check for lumps or other abnormalities. During your exam, your clinician can teach you about normal anatomy, and will advise whether you need further screening tests like ultrasound or mammography.
A few more suggestions to prepare for your visit
Make a list of the questions you want to ask your health care provider. Consider writing these questions down on a piece of paper or store them on your phone so that it is easier to remember to ask these questions during the appointment.
- Ask if you can have a friend in the room with you if you think you would feel more comfortable with another person present.
- Inform your clinician at the beginning of the visit if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Abdominal lump, swelling or bloating
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, spotting or discharge
- Pain with intercourse
- Breast lump, pain or discharge
- Abnormal bleeding or irregular menses
- Unexplained weight loss
- Persistent digestive problems
Ready to schedule a Preventive Health and/or PAP visit? Click here to schedule your visit!