Did you know there is a difference between a pelvic exam and a Pap smear? The two procedures are often confused with one another, but there are important differences between the two.
A Pap smear, also known as a Pap test, is a procedure that collects cells from the cervix to screen for cervical cancer. A speculum is placed in the vagina, and a small brush or collection device is used to collect a small number of cells from the exterior of the cervix, as well as the cervical canal.
Pap smears should begin at age 21, and are no longer recommended yearly, unless some cervical cell abnormalities were found. These new guidelines are a shift from the former recommendations many of us were familiar with in the past. The current recommendations were based on extensive research studies with thousands of women where many variables were taken into consideration.
A pelvic exam evaluates your vagina, uterus and ovaries, pelvic musculature, and the appearance of the cervix. While a pelvic exam is part of a Pap test, a Pap test isn’t always included during a pelvic exam.
Even if a woman has had a hysterectomy, she should still see her gynecologist/women’s health provider on a yearly basis. Pelvic exams can often pick up problems such as pelvic prolapse, external genitalia changes such as atrophy of vagina tissues or conditions known as lichen sclerosis, and even bladder and rectal abnormalities.