Many women may be receiving medically unjustified pelvic exams, according to a new investigation from the University of California, San Francisco. The study found that many of the 521 gynecologists and obstetricians surveyed mistakenly believe that pelvic exams are important in screening for ovarian cancer. The research team noted that under current preventive care guidelines from the American Cancer Society, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, most women also no longer need annual Pap smears to screen for cervical cancer.
The investigators asked the participating physicians whether they would perform a pelvic exam in patients aged 18, 35, 55, and 70 years who had no symptoms of gynecologic diseases and who didn’t need a Pap test according to the professional guidelines. Nearly all of the physicians surveyed indicated that they would perform routine pelvic exams in women who had no symptoms of gynecologic problems and were at low risk for pelvic cancers. Most of the doctors surveyed said they would perform the exam on a 55-year-old woman with no ovaries, uterus or cervix – and more than half considered such an exam to be very important for that woman. Some 87 percent of the physicians said they would perform the exam on healthy 18-year-olds. ACOG recently recommended the exam not begin routinely until age 21.