New Year, New Well Woman Exam

Hollie Dubroc, RN
January 24, 2022
(5 mins read)
Women's health

It is a new year and the best time to make all the right plans around prioritizing your health and wellness, so today we will be talking about the well woman exam! Yes! That exam that you know you need but sometimes want to skip. Our advice is Just Do It.

But before we go on, want to give you a brief overview of what a well woman exam is, when and how frequently to get it and what to expect during an exam. Now let's dive in!

Yearly checkup

What makes up the yearly exam?

Most well women exams start with the same information gathering as other physical or well checkups including past information. Well women exams, typically also include conversational pieces regarding sexual history and transition into reviewing current information from questions and answers about any present issues, as well as, reviewing information collected before seeing the provider. The last component of the well women exam is the physical exam.

 The physical exam follows the discussion component to allow providers to detect any focal points during the physical exam or need for additional tests. Each piece of the overall checkup serves an independent purpose to provide a safe bill of health to women.

In order to the get the most out of your checkup, it always important to be entirely forthcoming to your healthcare team. The health care team is not there to judge you, but only to help you maintain the best health you can achieve. The components described below are solely for informative relevance, each provider has various techniques for their practice. In addition, there are many variables to each patient, which can alter specific pieces of their personalized checkup. 

Past Information:

  • Medical history 
  • Surgical history
  • Family History
  • Sexual history
  • Immunizations 

Current Information:

  • Current medications
  • Current pain
  • Current concerns
  • Problems during intercourse
  • Mood
  • Recent menstrual cycle
  • Family Planning
  • Vital Signs
  • Weight and height

Physical Exam:

  • Breast exam
  • Pelvic exam
  • Pap smear

Doctor taking medical history

What has changed?

Science and technology are always changing, which is what provides us brilliant new discoveries, lifesaving advances, and devices that make our everyday lives easier. Historically, pap smears have been performed on every women at every yearly checkup. Discoveries in the development and progression of cervical cancer have allowed the frequency of pap smears to be tailored to each individual women specifically based on their personalized age and risk assessments. There are exceptions to the updated guidelines, which should be discussed on an individual basis with your provider. 

Around 14,100 new cases of cervical cancer is the projected 2022 number from the American Cancer Society. Recently, the yearly well women checkup has gone through some guideline changes, which have in turn resulted in some controversy around the topic. The majority of the discussions have been around the actual frequency of the overall checkup.  Each individual patient is unique and frequency of any exam, test, or checkup should be a conversation between individuals and their provider. 

General Guidelines:

∙Ages 21-29

o   Pap test every 3 years

∙Ages 30-65

o   Pap smear and HPV testing  every 5 years

o   Pap smear alone every 3 years

o   HPV testing alone every 5 years

∙Ages 65 and above, can stop cervical cancer screenings if 

o   Never had any abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer and

  • Two or three negative screenings in a row, depending on the test


Why still get a yearly exam?

Therefore, yes the cervical cancer screening guidelines have changed, resulting in individualized Pap smear testing; but the overall frequency of the yearly well women exam has not changed. The checkup between you and your provider serve as a crucial time for a review of any historical and current information to be done.  Each checkup is focused to women specifically and allows for any new sexual health conversations, family planning discussions, or general medical health care to be completed; making these checkups a significant part of a women’s overall health maintenance. 

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