Annual pelvic exams are no longer necessary according to recommendations laid out by the American College of Physicians (ACP). While this has long been considered a routine part of women’s health care, new guidelines say there’s not a good reason for it.
The ACP has advised against pelvic exams for women who aren’t pregnant and have no symptoms of a potential problem.
The reason behind this recommendation is there’s no good evidence that pelvic exams benefit women, the ACP said.
“I think a lot of women will be relieved by this [recommendation], especially since it’s based on scientific evidence,” said Dr. Linda Humphrey, a member of the ACP’s Clinical Practice Guidelines Committee, which released the new advice after reviewing 32 studies on the benefits and harms of routine pelvic exams.
Humphrey stressed that the new guidelines apply only to pelvic exams, and that women should not deviate away from cervical cancer screenings.
For years, American women have routinely had an annual pelvic exam. The aim, doctors have said, is to spot cancers of the pelvic organs, infections, and abnormalities such as uterine fibroids or ovarian cysts.
However, the ACP team found that no studies have actually tested the accuracy of pelvic exams in screening for most of these conditions.
The researchers did find three studies focused on screening for ovarian cancer in average-risk women, however no evidence of a benefit. One study, did find that 1.5 of women screened ended up having an unnecessary surgery.
“In medicine, a lot of things have been done because we think they might help,” Humphrey said.
“The reasoning behind why clinicians are doing it has never been very clear,” said Dr. George Sawaya, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.
Humphrey added that if women want to be screened for sexually transmitted diseases, like gonorrhea or chlamydia, that can be done with a simple urine test or vaginal exam opposed to a pelvic exam.