Annual pelvic exams -- often an uncomfortable part of a woman's visit to the gynecologist's office -- may no longer be recommended for all women, according to new guidelines by a federal task force.
The United States Preventive Service Task Force (USPSTF), the expert committee that advises U.S. doctors on all matters concerning preventive medicine, says there is “not enough evidence” for or against pelvic exams in women without any pelvic symptoms.
The committee conducted a full review of all studies to date pertaining to screening pelvic exams. USPSTF did not find any studies that directly showed improved quality of life or lifesaving events due to pelvic exams.
The pelvic exam includes visual and physical components that can be performed by providers for screening purposes. The USPSTF has already established recommendations for screening pelvic exams for specific diseases such as cervical cancer and sexually transmitted diseases. Until now, there were no prior recommendations for screening pelvic exams for women without symptoms.
Interestingly, the USPSTF said 68 percent of U.S. obstetrician-gynecologists it surveyed routinely perform a pelvic examination, and 78 percent of all surveyed physicians (including family/general practitioners and internists) believe that pelvic examinations are a useful screening test for gynecologic cancers. Some organizations such as the American College of Physicians and American Academy of Family Physicians have recommended against screening pelvic exams.
However, other organizations such as the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), still recommend yearly pelvic exams for women over the age of 21.
“In addition to the screenings, evaluations and counseling that clinicians can provide, the annual well-woman visit is an opportunity for the patient and her ob-gyn to discuss whether a pelvic examination is appropriate for her," Dr. Thomas Gellhaus, president of ACOG, said in a statement.
Gellhaus recommends that patients and physicians communicate and discuss concerns together regarding pelvic examinations.
Dr. Taraneh Shirazian, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center, said the pelvic exam is an extremely useful diagnostic tool.
"Pelvic exam is used to educate and empower women about their gynecological health," she told ABC News today. "Women usually understand the value of [screening pelvic exams]."
Dr. MONIQUE DIEUVIL is a family medicine resident at University of Florida Health in Gainesville, Florida. She is a medical resident in the ABC News Medical Unit.