Despite the benefits of having an annual gynecological exam, almost half of all women fail to have their check-up every year. Andrew Markowitz, M.D., an OB/GYN at Women’s Health and Menopause Center, says, “Many women think they don’t need to come see their doctor unless there’s a problem. That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
An annual exam is critical in detecting problems early, often before any symptoms are experienced. A typical gynecological exam includes checking the patient’s height, weight and blood pressure, and also includes a breast and pelvic exam with a Pap smear and an internal check of the uterus and ovaries.
The death rate from cervical cancer has decreased by 70 percent since the 1940s, largely due to the prevalence of annual GYN exams. The Pap smear not only detects the cancer itself, but can catch a precancerous cervical cell changes and can be caused by Human papillomavirus (HPV). Early detection can lead to those cells being destroyed even before cancer develops.
Dr. Markowitz says, “Unlike cervical cancer, ovarian cancer is often more difficult to detect in its early stages because the ovaries are located deep inside the lower abdomen.” A digital exam of the uterus, during a gynecological exam, can help detect any ovarian swelling or abnormalities.
Physicians also perform a breast exam during a woman’s visit. Although women are encouraged to perform a self-breast exam at home, most women fail to do it regularly. As a result, breast cancer can be detected by a physician during the exam.
Annual exams can also detect sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like gonorrhea and chlamydia. For women, there are often no symptoms. After infection occurs, it may take two days to three weeks for symptoms to show up and are frequently mistaken for a urinary tract or vaginal infection.
“Women are usually embarrassed and of course never want to hear they have acquired an STD, but the benefits of treatment for these bacteria outweigh not knowing,” says Dr. Markowitz.
Symptoms include a yellow vaginal discharge, painful or frequent urination, vaginal bleeding between periods or rectal bleeding, discharge or pain.
Make scheduling your annual exam a priority. Contact the Women’s Health and Menopause Center today by calling 248-932-9223.