By Molly Mack, NP ~

“I’m a healthy woman, so why do I need an annual well woman exam?”

This is a common question raised by healthy, fit women of all ages. So, why do women need their annual exam? With the recent change in Pap smear recommendations now being every three to five years, many women feel that they can defer their annual exam until they are due for their next pap. However, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), for women ages 21 and older, having this exam annually is important for several reasons. Firstly, it is a time for women to discuss with their healthcare practitioner ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle and minimize health risks. Also, along with a routine physical exam, which encompasses an overall health assessment via blood pressure, weight, body mass index, etc., a well woman exam includes a pelvic and breast exam, which helps screen for breast and gynecologic cancers. At this visit, the practitioner can also discuss sexually transmitted disease screening, contraception, and pre-pregnancy counseling.

well woman exam

Because breast and pelvic exams are unique to a well woman exam, let’s discuss what these consist of. The pelvic exam consists of three parts and begins with an external assessment of the vulva and perineum for any signs that might require further investigation. The next part is an internal exam, and this is when the provider will insert a plastic or metal instrument called a speculum into the vagina so she can visualize the cervix and walls of the vagina. If due, this would be when the Pap smear would be performed. The third and final part is the bimanual exam, which is a combination of the internal and external exams, and it is here that the practitioner assesses the shape and size of the uterus as well as any signs that would warrant further investigation.

The clinical breast exam is another important part of the well-woman visit. This exam will begin with the woman seated so the provider can assess the overall shape and symmetry of the breasts. You will also be asked to move your arms in certain positions because these movements can help reveal any abnormalities in the breast tissue. You will then be asked to lie down so the practitioner can palpate your breasts in search of any suspicious lumps. This is also the time when you will be taught how to properly perform a self breast exam and what signs and symptoms to look for when doing so. And, if indicated, your provider will talk to you about mammograms at this time.

Your healthcare provider will guide you through each step of the visit so you know what to expect. Having an annual well woman exam is important for many reasons and an optimal way to maintain your health as a woman. So, come on by the birth center for your next well woman exam!

To schedule your appointment at Del Mar Birth Center, call (626) 577-2229

well woman exam


ACOG. (2012). Well woman visit. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Committee Opinion. 534, 1-3.