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Pap Smears and Pelvic Exams

Welcome to our new blog. One of the best things about my chosen profession is that I get to talk with women all day and, ideally, to help them. Although the internet has provided people with access to enormous amounts of information, that can often be overwhelming, and such information is easily misunderstood. I hope to use this blog to clarify some of the issues about which I am often asked.

For starters, I’d like to discuss the difference between a Pap smear, a pelvic exam, and an ‘annual exam.’

 A Pap smear is a sample of cells, typically taken from a women’s cervix, which is examined microscopically at a laboratory in order to detect cervical cancer or precancerous cells.  I perform a Pap smear by using a speculum to view the cervix and using a soft plastic brush to gently scrape off some cells. The cells are then placed in a specimen jar and sent for examination by professionals at a pathology laboratory. The report is sent to me, usually within a week. I will then determine any action, if needed. The frequency of Pap smears is determined by many factors including age and past history.

A pelvic exam is a visual and manual inspection of a woman’s genital area. This does not necessarily include a Pap smear. A pelvic exam performed in an emergency room or for assessment of problems will not usually include a Pap smear. A pelvic examination can be used to evaluate problems such as pain, abnormal bleeding, or abnormal discharge. A pelvic examination will also usually be part of an ‘annual exam.’

The ‘annual exam’ refers to a preventive health maintenance visit which is usually performed on a yearly basis. The elements of this visit vary according to the woman’s age and other factors. This would generally include measurements of weight, blood pressure and other elements. The yearly exam of a woman usually includes review of medical history and any problems, medication use, menstrual pattern, conception goals, and risk factors such as smoking, exercise and stress. The physical exam will usually involve thyroid, breast, abdomen and pelvic examinations. A Pap may or may not be part of an annual exam.

I hope this provides some clarification. Please visit the email page if you have any questions or comments. Thanks!

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