A new study conducted by researchers from the University of California at San Diego found that pelvic exams, which are often used to detect cervical cancer and other conditions, may not always be necessary, especially for young women.
The study revealed that millions of young women are receiving these tests without real cause for concern, and the danger lies in the anxiety and stress that exams like these can yield. The researchers note that they can also be a factor in driving up insurance costs.
“Recent media reports have called attention to inappropriate gynecological examinations in young women,” said Dr. George F. Sawaya. “Parents of adolescents and young women should be aware that cervical cancer screenings is not recommended routinely in this age group. Pelvic exams are not necessary prior to getting most contraceptives and are often not needed to screen for sexually transmissible infections.”
When to test
The researchers conducted a population-based study that surveyed women between 2011 and 2017 to determine how often they were receiving pelvic exams.
While the researchers explained that there are certainly reasons young people could need a pelvic exam -- including STD treatment, pregnancy, or to check an intrauterine device (IUD) -- women under the age of 21 aren’t recommended to receive such exams.
Overall, the researchers found that women, regardless of their age, who went to their doctors with any of the above risk factors were more likely to receive pelvic exams than those without such concerns.
Age often came into play, as the study revealed that over 1.5 million women were receiving pelvic exams as part of a typical doctor’s visit before reaching 21 years old. The researchers explained that exams in these cases are often medically unnecessary, as there is no risk present.
Overall, the researchers hope that these findings open the dialogue for young women and their medical professionals, as doing so could help reduce how often these exams are administered with no solid medical risk.
“This study suggests that healthcare providers and young women need to communicate clearly and often about the best time for these tests,” said researcher Jin Qin. “We want to ensure that guidelines are followed, and lives are saved.”