An annual wellness exam, also known as a well-woman visit or a gynecological exam, is a really important preventative care visit with a doctor. Each visit may be slightly different depending on your health, but it’s still a good idea to go in once a year. And if you’re overdue, there’s no better time to get one than during National Women’s Health Week! (ahem… that’s now)
The term “well-woman exam” is sometimes used interchangeably, but the annual wellness exam isn’t only for cisgendered women. All people, regardless of their gender identity, can and should get an annual wellness exam. Here are 6 things you might want to include during your next appointment (which you can make at Planned Parenthood).
Breast Cancer Screening
Breast cancer screenings, also known as a breast exam, is a physical exam to detect lumps or other changes that could indicate cancer. The exam, which only takes a few minutes, will check both breasts and underneath the armpits. Even if you’re doing breast self-exams, it’s important to get a breast cancer screening every one to three years before age 40, and every year after 40.
During a pelvic exam, the clinician will examine your external reproductive organs and your internal reproductive organs — vagina, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus - if you have them. It only takes a few minutes and some parts may feel uncomfortable. The pelvic exam allows the doctor to check for cysts, STD symptoms, lumps or any other issues.
Pap Smear and HPV Test
Pap smears are often associated with annual wellness exams, but they don’t make up the whole appointment. Pap smears or Pap tests swab the cervix to test for cervical cancer and they often take place toward the end of a pelvic exam. If you’re between 21 and 29, you need a Pap every three years. If you’re between 30 and 65, you need one every five to six years. HPV tests are typically only administered if you’re over 30 or as a follow up if abnormal cells were found during your last Pap smear.
If you’re already using birth control, the annual exam is a perfect time to discuss how your current method is working for you, any side effects you may be experiencing, or whether it’s time to change methods. If you’re not yet using birth control, talk to your provider about your options. Depending on the method you choose, you may be able to get your birth control during your visit. Planned Parenthood is one of the only providers to offer a full range of contraceptive methods.
Most annual wellness exams do not automatically include STD testing, unless you’re showing symptoms. But, it’s a good idea to be tested on a regular basis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all sexually active women under 25 be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea annually. So, if you need both testing and a wellness exam, you can get both done in one visit. There are several different tests that can help diagnose an STD. Talk to your clinician about the tests that will be best for you.
And so much more!
Last, but not least, the annual wellness exam is way more than a check-up. It is also a great opportunity to ask the doctor questions or discuss other health topics, such as mental health, pregnancy, family health history, nutrition, vaccines and more.
These exams are completely covered by health insurance because they’re considered preventive care. If you don’t have health insurance, that’s okay! You may qualify for financial assistance or discounted service on a sliding fee scale. Either way, you can schedule your annual exam online at Planned Parenthood today!
Allison Reilly is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.