Doctors advise that once every year, women of all reproductive ages including those who are not sexually active, should undergo an examination to screen for preventable diseases and cancers. This examination is what is referred to as “Well Woman Exam”.
The Well Woman Exam involves the health history, a pelvic examination, breast examination, Pap smear and any other procedure the doctors may recommend.
Who should get Well Women Exam?
Every woman and young adolescents of age 12 years and above should undergo a Well Woman Exam. However usually sexually active adolescents and young women also need STD testing.
Pap smears are recommended on a yearly basis for all women 21 years and older. Pap smear screens for a risk of developing cervical cancer.
Women who have undergone procedures to remove their uterus and ovaries (hysterectomy) for health reasons excluding cancer and abnormal cells do not need pap smears but they still need a Well Women Exam. It is a misconception that if a pap smear is not needed women are exempt from pelvic examination. Women of all ages need a pelvic examination to screen for vaginal cancer , ovarian masses etc.
The American Cancer Society suggests that women of age 70 and above do not need pap smears. However, pap smears are necessary for all women of all ages as one can never tell what one may find irrespective of medical history or age.
The Well Woman Examination
There are four basic parts of the Well Woman Examination as discussed below:
When a woman meets a medical professional, especially one who is attending to her for the first time, it is important that she shares her medical history in order to set the exam on the right path.
A health history involves medical details about past family, gynecologic, obstetric, genetic and psychosocial aspects of the patient’s life in order to draw up a complete care plan.
Information bothering on eating habits, smoking or drinking habits, exercise, pregnancy history and future, mental state, vaccination, etc. are important as well.
It is also at this stage that the woman reveals any challenges, abnormalities or changes she may have experienced or is still experiencing to the doctor and asks any and every question bothering her about her health.
This is a head-to-toe examination of the woman to find clues to health problems. It involves checking her weight, height, pulse, blood pressure, eye color, nose, mouth, thyroid glands, lymph nodes, breasts, heart, lungs, liver, reflexes, spine, bones, skin, teeth and urine.
Clinical Breast Examination
This is the examination of the breast and its tissues for signs of a breast disease. It starts with the woman sitting up with her arms above her head for signs like nipple inversion, lumps, dimpling, redness, orange peel appearance or redness, rashes, swelling or soreness.
The woman lies down, and the same examination is performed. Nipple discharge is also important, and this is checked too.
This is performed to check the reproductive and sexual organs and tissues. It usually involves a pap smear and other rectal examinations.
Some laboratory tests are also recommended.
The Well Woman Exam is a great opportunity for women to take charge of their health, take preventive measures and avoid a complicated life ahead.