What to Expect at the Well Woman Exam
What is a well woman exam and why do you need one? The well woman exam
is an annual physical that focuses on health issues that are specific
to women. Women are screened for various cancers, in addition to checking
for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, and
This screening begins at age 21 regardless of sexual activity (1). There
have been recent changes that point toward decreasing the frequency of
Pap smear testing for low-risk women. If you are above age 30, a Pap smear
and HPV test can be performed every 5 years (1). A Pap smear without an
HPV test may also be performed every 3 years. If you have had a complete
hysterectomy (which includes removal of the cervix), regular Pap smears
are no longer needed. For most women, this type of screening can be discontinued
at age 65 if you have a history of adequate screenings.
Screening for breast cancer includes a clinical breast exam every 3 years
in females between the ages of 20-40 years and annually for females above
40 years old. Additionally, yearly mammograms are recommended starting
at age 40. Women who are considered to be high-risk for this type of cancer
may need to begin screening sooner (2).
Once a woman turns 50 years old, a colonoscopy should be performed. If
results are normal, a follow-up colonoscopy is repeated in 10 years. Some
individuals who are high-risk for colon cancer may need to begin screening
at an earlier age (2).
All females over the age of 65 are offered an osteoporosis screening via
a bone density scan, also called DXA (or DEXA) scan. Hormonal changes
in women of this age can put them at an increased risk for osteoporosis.
Screening may be done sooner if the patient is considered to be high-risk (2).
Global annual health assessment:
This includes obtaining vital signs, measuring blood pressure, and ordering
blood work to screen for high cholesterol and diabetes. This assessment
also includes a detailed discussion of lifestyle, sexual health, vaccinations,
and mental well-being.
Many insurance companies allow free preventative screenings not subject
to a deductible or coinsurance, so check with your insurance company and
schedule your well-woman exam today!
(1) The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
(2) U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
(3) The American Cancer Society