A pelvic exam is a way for doctors to look for signs of illness in organs in a woman's body. The word "pelvic" refers to the pelvis. The exam is used to look at a woman's:
- Uterus (the womb)
- Cervix (opening from the vagina to the uterus)
- Fallopian tubes (tubes that carry eggs to the womb)
- Ovaries (glands that produce eggs)
- Bladder (the sac that holds urine)
- Rectum (the chamber that connects the colon to the anus)
Why do menopausal women need pelvic exams?
Because the risk of cancer increases with age, having regular pelvic exams may help prevent certain cancers in both menopausal and postmenopausal women.
How often should menopausal women get pelvic exams?
The pelvic exam is a standard component of a physical examination and should be part of routine health care. Current guidelines recommend that women who are or who have been sexually active should have a Pap test every 3 years after having 3 consecutive normal tests. Based on your personal health profile, your doctor can discuss with you how often you should have this test.
Do I need to do anything to prepare for the exam?
You do not have to do anything special to get ready for the exam. When you arrive at the office, your doctor may ask if you need to use the bathroom. This question is asked so that you can stay comfortable during the exam. Sometimes, a urine sample is requested.
What can I expect during the exam?
You can expect to feel a little discomfort, but you should not feel pain. The exam itself takes about 10 minutes. If you have any questions during the exam, be sure to ask your doctor.
How is the exam performed?
During a typical pelvic exam, your doctor or nurse will:
- Ask you to take off your clothes in private. (You will be given a gown or other covering).
- Talk to you about any health concerns.
- Ask you to lie on your back and relax.
- Press down on areas of the lower stomach to feel the organs from the outside.
- Help you get in position for the speculum exam. (You may be asked to slide down to the end of the table).
- Ask you to bend your knees and to place your feet in holders called stirrups.
- Perform the speculum exam. During the exam, a device called a speculum will be inserted into the vagina. The speculum is opened to widen the vagina so that the vagina and cervix can be seen.
- Perform a Pap smear. Your doctor will use a plastic spatula and small brush to take a sample of cells from the cervix. A sample of fluid may also be taken from the vagina to test for infection.
- Remove the speculum.
- Perform a manual exam. Your doctor will place one or two fingers inside the vagina and uses the other hand to gently press down on the area he or she is feeling. Your doctor is noting if the organs have changed in size or shape.
- Sometimes a rectal exam is performed. Your doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to detect any tumors or other abnormalities.
- Finally, your doctor will talk to you about the exam. (You may be asked to return to get test results).
What tests are taken during the pelvic exam?
A sample of cells is taken as part of a regular test called a Pap smear, or Pap test, to screen for cervical cancer or cells that look like they might lead to cancer. The sample is placed in a solution and sent to a lab where it is examined. Tests also may be taken to screen for sexually transmitted diseases.