Learn all about what typically occurs during a routine check-up and more importantly, what we are checking for and why:
The Pelvic Exam
The pelvic exam is done to check up on all the external and internal female genitalia. In this portion of the exam, your doctor will determine visually and by feeling if all parts are healthy. If not, she will work with you to decide on plan of action whether it be behavioral change, medication, or procedural correction.
The Pap Smear
A yearly Papanicolaou (Pap) smear and pelvic exam is the best way to protect yourself from cervical and other cancers through early detection. Routine testing for HPV is performed on pap for women ages 30-65. On women of other ages it is done when the pap is abnormal. This increases the sensitivity of the screening pap to detect cell changes which can lead to cervical cancer.
A pap smear takes a sample of cervical cells that are then examined under a microscope in order to detect any abnormalities or changes in the cells. Since the introduction of the pap smear in the 1950s, cervical cancer rates decreased by 60%.
The current recommendation is for all adult women over 20 to receive a yearly pap smear.
More on Cervical Cancer
Did you know the National Institute of Health estimates that of the 12,200 women diagnosed per year with cervical cancer, one third will die from the disease?
Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). Experts estimate 60-80% of people are HPV positive. Though many infections are cleared naturally by the human body, persistent infections cause cellular abnormalities and may lead to cervical cancer if not treated. Fifteen of the over 100 strains of HPV are considered high-risk, cancer-causing types. HPV-16 and HPV-18 are known to cause 70% of cervical cancers around the world.
Treatment for cervical cancer has improved and continues to improve and the survival rate is now close to 75%.
What can you do to help?
- Yearly pap smears for early detection
- FDA-approved HPV vaccines: Gardasil and Cervarix
- Safe-sex practices
Clinical Breast Exam
This is the first step in early detection of breast cancer. During the breast exam, your breasts and underarms are examined for any changes or abnormalities.
The main purpose is to detect for lumps, however it is also important to check for any problems with the skin, nipples, and lymph nodes. A lump will feel like a small rock inside the tissue. It is recommended to also perform self breast exams every month after each menstrual cycle.
Mammogram and Radiology
After a woman turns 40, it is important that she completes routine, annual mammograms.
A mammogram is an x-ray of breast tissue that is much more sensitive to detecting lumps than feel alone. This exam can detect tiny specks of calcium that are an early indicator of breast cancer.
Other breast imaging tests include Ultrasounds and MRIs. An ultrasound shows the consistency of a breast lump while an MRI is best to detect the rare lobular breast cancer not detected by mammograms.
In the united states, one in eight women are affected by breast cancer and it is responsible for killing more women than any other cancer aside from lung cancer.
Risk factors include:
- Older age
- Genes BRCA1 and BRCA2
- Periods that began before 12 years old
- Beginning menopause after 55 years old
- Overweight and Obesity
Treatment and prognosis have significantly improved over the years. Lumpectomy, mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy are all increasingly successful treatments for breast cancer.
A rectal exam is a routine part of the annual exam for women over 40 years old.
This simple exam is done to detect any abnormalities that may be present in the rectum or colon.
Part of this exam tests for blood present in the stool. If present, this may indicate bleeding somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract, hemorrhoids, or another problem such as early colon cancer.
A colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years for women 50 and above and every 5 years if there is a family history of colon cancer.
A colonoscopy is a procedure where a long, narrow, flexible instrument with a camera on the tip is used to view the inside of the colon and rectum.
This instrument is called a colonoscope and it is able to see irritated tissues, ulcers, polyps, and cancers that could not be detected otherwise.
A colonoscopy is the best screening tool for colon and rectal cancer, even when there are no symptoms.
Colon cancer is a common cancer for both men and women. Though it is a leading cause of death due to cancer in the United States, early detection can often completely cure the disease.
Some risk factors include:
- Age over 50
- Colorectal polyps
- Family history of colorectal cancer
- Ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease
- High fat diet