Do I Really Need an Annual Exam? The Answer Is Yes.
October 8, 2019 by Tara Denke, MD
It can be tempting to skip your annual exam, but your annual well woman visit is worth making time for. Here’s why.
Women are complex and so is our reproductive system. An annual visit with an OB/GYN or your primary care provider is an opportunity to screen for cancers, prevent health issues, address concerns and improve your overall health.
As an obstetrician and gynecologist, I see women throughout their reproductive lives. From our teens though menopause, our bodies go through so many changes. Annual visits are a great way to check in with your healthcare provider. These annual visits build trust and help us get to know you better.
A well woman exam includes a physical exam, pelvic exam and clinical breast exam, but each life stage comes with its own set of health topics and recommended screenings. Here’s a quick guide.
Tell us about your periods – heavy, light, painful, irregular? If you’re thinking about having a baby, we can talk about lifestyle, vitamins, medications and more. If you want to prevent pregnancy, we can discuss all of your birth control options. We are here to help with sexually transmitted infections and educate on safe sex. If you’re losing your interest in sex, we understand those issues as well. And when it comes to menopause, there are lots of options to reduce symptoms and enjoy this time of life.
At your annual visit, we look at your overall health including your medical history, family health history, medications and mental health. It’s a great time to evaluate your health, understand your personal risks for conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, and recommend routine screenings. For instance, we might let you know it’s time for a cholesterol test.
Cervical cancer screening
Under current guidelines, we only do a Pap smear every three years for women age 21-29 to screen for cervical cancer. From age 30 to 65, the preferred screening method is a Pap test combined with a human papillomavirus (HPV) test every three to five years.
These screenings can actually prevent cervical cancer because we can detect abnormal cervical cell changes, known as pre-cancers. We can treat the abnormal cells before they can turn into a cervical cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the most invasive cervical cancers are found in women who have not had regular Pap tests.
Breast cancer screening
Mammograms are one of the most effective tools in detecting breast cancer in its earliest stages when chances of survival are highest.
At Mankato Clinic, we follow the American College of Radiology Guidelines which recommend annual mammograms beginning at age 40. We offer 3D mammograms, also called tomosynthesis. The machine looks the same as a conventional 2D mammogram, but the technology is proven to detect more breast cancers in women of all breast types.
If you know the anxiety of being called to return for additional imaging, you’ll be happy to know that 3D mammograms reduce these callbacks by 40 percent! In fact, we recommend 3D mammograms as the first choice for breast cancer screening.
Some women may be at a higher risk for breast cancer due to a family or personal history of breast cancer. In these instances, we discuss when and how often they should be screened for breast cancer.
When it comes to women’s health, I believe in presenting information honestly and guiding women to make informed decisions on their care.