Confused about your well-woman visit? You’re not alone. Changing guidelines and recommendations have led to some confusion on when to have your visit, who should have a well-woman visit, and what a well-woman visit should include.
A well-woman visit or gynecological exam includes a pelvic exam, which is a physical examination, a Pap test (Pap smear). It may also include an HPV test if you are 30 years old or older.
It is recommended that:
- Women start getting Pap tests at age 21.
- Women ages 21-65 get a Pap test every 3 years.
- Women ages 30-65 get a Pap test every 3 years or co-test, which is a Pap test and HPV test every 5 years.
The importance of screening and early detection
Cervical cancer and pre-cancer typically have no symptoms. When symptoms do appear, it is often after the cancer has become invasive and grown into nearby areas. The most common symptoms when cervical cancer has advanced are:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- An unusual discharge from the vagina
- Pain during sex
These symptoms can be caused by something other than cervical cancer. If you notice any of these symptoms see a health care professional right away. The best approach is to have regular Pap test and pelvic exams instead of waiting for symptoms to appear.
Cervical cancer is one of the easiest cancers to prevent with regular screenings. When found early, cervical cancer is highly treatable. Yet, even though there are screening tests available and the disease is treatable, Louisiana has high rates of cervical cancer and cervical cancer deaths compared to the rest of the United States, with the state ranking 6th in cervical cancer cases and 5th in cervical cancer deaths. This in part may be due to low screening rates among women in the state.
Pap tests are one of the most reliable and effective screening tests. The Pap test only screens for cervical cancer. It does not screen for other gynecological cancers. The test looks for cell changes on the cervix, which can be treated and help prevent cancer. Pap tests can also find cervical cancer early, when treatment is most effective. It is important that women 21-65 get regular Pap tests. If your results are normal, your physician may recommend waiting three years for your next Pap test; however, you should still see your doctor regularly for a pelvic exam. Always see a health care professional if you notice any symptoms or unusual signs.
How to prepare for your Pap test:
- Do not schedule your Pap test when you are having your period.
- If your Pap test is within the next two days you should not:
- Use a tampon
- Have sex
- Use a birth control foam, cream, or jelly
- Use a medicine or cream in your vagina
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. If you haven’t had a Pap test please schedule one today. Also encourage the women in your life to schedule their well-woman visit. Early detection is important. If you aren’t sure where to go and you qualify for a no-cost cervical cancer screening, we have providers across the state. Go to www.lbchp.org/screening-locations to find a convenient location or call 1-888-599-1073 for assistance.
- Courtney Wheeler, HPV Coordinator