Routine gynecologic exams, also known as well-woman exams, are instrumental in maintaining a woman’s sexual and reproductive health. All women should have a check up with their gynecologist or OB/GYN every year starting at age 21, or as soon as they become sexually active, advises the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). A number of diseases – from breast cancer to cervical cancer – often don’t exhibit obvious symptoms and therefore can go undetected in their earliest, most treatable stages, unless caught during a routine exam.
A well-woman exam begins with measuring and recording vital information, such as your blood pressure and weight. Next, Dr. Nanayakkara will discuss any symptoms or concerns you have. For new patients, he will take a complete medical history. The physical examination portion includes a pelvic exam of your vagina, uterus, and cervix, and a Pap smear to check for precancerous or cancerous cells on the cervix. In addition, you will receive a breast exam to check for any potential lumps or changes that could indicate breast cancer. Other screenings, like a bone density screening, may be performed or ordered based on your age or specific risk factors.
A Pap smear, or Pap test, is your best defense for preventing cervical cancer, which some 12,000 women have been diagnosed with annually in the United States. During a Pap test, Dr. Nanayakkara uses a special instrument (a speculum) to scrape a sample of cells from your cervix. These cells are then sent to a lab and examined under a microscope. If any abnormalities are detected, he may order additional testing. While an abnormal Pap test can provoke anxiety, most of the time it doesn’t mean you have precancerous cells or cancer. However, in the event that that is the case, such early detection allows for the most effective possible treatment.