Routine Pelvic Exams Might Be Totally Unnecessary

Getting fingered at your gyno's office once a year is a typically awkward experience, but it turns out that it might also be a pointless one. Experts are now saying that there is no medical evidence that supports the need for well women to get routine pelvic exams.

More and more doctors are challenging the merits of the frequency of such exams—called bimanual exams—arguing that they are not medically necessary, increase the cost of medical care, and scare younger women away from the gynecologist. Additionally, bimanual exams can cause suspicion and alarm over conditions that are ultimately benign but lead to surgery that could cause complications.

Ostensibly, bimanual exams are performed to detect STIs and cancer. But the CDC finds that the exams are "not an effective screening tool for ovarian cancer," while a study supported by the National Cancer Institute found that ovarian cancer is never detected by a pelvic exam alone. As for STI screening, urine samples and vaginal swabs are more advantageous than a pelvic exam.

Dr. Carolyn L. Westhoff, a gynecologist at Columbia University Medical Center, wrote in in The Journal of Women’s Health:

Frequent routine bimanual examinations may partly explain why U.S. rates of ovarian cystectomy and hysterectomy are more than twice as high as rates in European countries, where the use of the pelvic examination is limited to symptomatic women.

The issue here seems to be a product of our healthcare system, where doctors are only paid for procedures and not for time spent with patients. So it would seem that routinely poking around in our vaginas is necessary only for billing purposes, which kind of makes the gynecologists' office a little bit like the Moonlight Bunny Ranch, except that we don't aren't getting a cut.

Image via TDHster/Shutterstock

An Exam With Poor Results [NYT]