A well-woman exam is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health. But in the busy lives that most women lead, an exam can move down the priority list. Well-woman exams are about more than just Pap smears, though.
Well-woman exams are a comprehensive health exam, much like a physical. It’s an essential opportunity to screen for cancer and other diseases, discuss contraception and fertility, and evaluate your gynecological health. The providers at Enrich Family Practice in Odessa, Texas, are women who care about your health as much as you do.
How to prepare for a well-woman exam
All women over the age of 21 are recommended to have an annual well-woman exam. Although the exam isn’t a big deal, there are a few things you need to do in preparation. You should avoid the following in the 24 hours before the exam:
- Contraceptive jelly, foam, or cream
- Any type of internal medicine, such as for yeast infection
In addition, the exam can’t be performed if you’re on your period. If Aunt Flo is visiting on the day of your appointment, call us to reschedule.
What happens in a well-woman exam
A well-woman exam is a checkup that you should have every year. A well-woman exam typically includes a Pap smear and breast and pelvic exam, as well as a discussion about your menstrual cycle, fertility, and contraception.
The Pap smear is probably what you associate most with a well-woman exam. And most women don’t particularly enjoy their time spent in the stirrups. But you’ll be happy to know that you don’t need to get a Pap smear every year; most healthy, low-risk women can go up to three years between tests.
The Pap smear tests for precancerous or cancerous changes in the cells of your cervix. Many women have no symptoms of cervical cancer in the early stages, making this screening so important. Because many cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), we simultaneously check for this common virus as part of your Pap smear.
The breast exam manually screens for signs of breast cancer, as well as any lumps, discharge, or skin changes. Of course, you should still examine your own breasts every month as well, but a clinical exam offers more expertise to observe signs you might miss.
With the pelvic exam, we also check for any irregularities, including ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and cancer.
This is also your time to talk to us about any issues that are affecting your health, from postpartum depression to vaginal discharges that could indicate an infection or STD. We also ask about what contraceptive method you’re using and if your periods are regular.
Why an annual well-woman exam is so important
Although the Pap smear can be a bit uncomfortable, it’s an important screening tool. It can catch early changes that indicate precancerous or cancerous cells. Early detection is key when it comes to cervical cancer: The survival rate is 92% when it’s caught early.
Similarly, the well-woman exam can detect other potential female health problems as well. We can discover everything from breast cancer to more benign issues, such as polycystic ovary syndrome or endometriosis.
A well-woman exam plays an important part in the prevention of many diseases. You deserve to be healthy, and we can help. Call our office today to request your appointment.