Annual Well-Woman Examination: It's no secret that healthy living and early detection of disease increases both the length of your life and quality of living. An annual well-woman examination is not just about proper medical care, but also provides the opportunity to learn about beneficial lifestyle habits, counseling, and community support systems as well as practical advice on how to take care of yourself and your family for a lifetime.
Well-woman exams are essential to wellness, health promotion, and disease identification and management. If you haven't already, consider scheduling your annual well-woman exam and check out this infographic for a brief rundown of what to expect:
Annual Well-Woman Examination - What to Expect: Breast Examination
- Visual check: The breast exam begins with a visual check of your breasts' appearance by your healthcare provider. Your doctor or nurse may ask you to raise your arms above your head, let them hang by your sides, or press your hands against your hips. This makes it easier to detect differences in size or shape between your breasts. They will then check the skin for rashes, dimpling, or other abnormalities. He or she will check your nipples to see if any liquid is discharged when lightly pressed.
- Manual check (palpation): Using the pads of the fingers, your physician will check your entire breast, underarm, and collarbone for any lumps or abnormalities. A suspicious lump is typically about the size of a pea before it can be felt in the breast tissue. Your healthcare provider will perform the exam on one side and then the other. Lymph nodes near the breast will also be checked to see if they are enlarged.
- Lump assessment: If a lump is discovered, your healthcare provider will note the size, shape, and texture. They will also check to see if it moves easily. Any lump found will likely need to be examined with further diagnostic measures.
Annual Well-Woman Examination - What to Expect: Pelvic Examination
During a pelvic exam, a doctor or nurse will examine your vulva and internal reproductive organs- vagina, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus.
First, you will change into a paper or cloth gown. Then the doctor and/or nurse will help you lie down on the exam table and put your legs up on foot rests. Your doctor will walk you through the rest of the process. It is important to try to relax your muscles, as it will make you more comfortable.
There are usually three parts to the exam: external exam, bimanual exam, and the speculum exam.
- External exam: Your doctor or nurse will look at your vulva and opening of your vagina. They are looking for cysts, abnormal discharge, genital warts, irritation, and other issues.
- Bimanual exam: Your doctor or nurse will put one or two gloved and lubricated fingers into your vagina while lightly pressing on your lower abdomen with the other hand. This allows him or her to check for:
1) size/shape of uterus
2) any tenderness or pain
3) enlarged ovaries, fallopian tubes, cysts, or tumors.
- Speculum exam: A speculum is a metal or plastic device with two flaps. It's purpose is to separate the vaginal walls and keep them open for direct inspection of the vaginal canal with the help of a light or mirror. This may feel uncomfortable but shouldn't hurt.
Annual Well-Woman Examination - What to Expect: Pap Smear
The pap smear is a screening test for abnormalities such as cervical cancer and human papillomavirus (HPV) infections. Your healthcare provider will perform the procedure during the speculum exam, since there is access to the cervix. Your doctor will use a small spatula or brush to wipe a small sample of cells from your cervix. He or she will then send the sample to a lab to be examined under a microscope.
Annual Well-Woman Examination - What to Expect: Other Tests
Some doctors consider other tests during the well-woman examination including tests for blood pressure, HIV, urinalysis, complete blood count, and testing for other sexually transmitted diseases.