Millions of unnecessary pelvic exams and Pap tests have been performed in women prior to the U.S. recommended screening age of 21, despite concerns of adverse effects

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 54.4% of pelvic exams and 71.9% of Pap smears conducted in teen girls in the U.S. are potentially unnecessary and may expose women to preventable harm.[i]

While it’s clear that pelvic exams are an important screening procedure for cervical cancer, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American Cancer Society both recommend that these screenings do not take place before the age of 21 unless a patient has symptoms of cervical cancer.[ii],[iii]

Yet many gynecologists continue to perform these exams at yearly wellness exams in asymptomatic patients, despite increased reports of anxiety, pain and feelings of disempowerment in women who undergo these examinations.

Pap Tests and Pelvic Exams

A bimanual pelvic exam (BPE) is a physical examination of outer and inner female reproductive and urinary organs. Papanicolaou tests (or Pap smears) are diagnostic procedures used to screen for cervical cancer.

In the U.S., pelvic exams and Pap tests are recommended annual procedures after the age of 21, while in other countries, the tests are performed far less frequently and in a less invasive manner, with similar prevention rates and fewer side effects.[iv]

During a bimanual pelvic exam, a doctor uses lubricated, gloved fingers inserted into the vagina to examine the size and shape of the uterus, and uses a speculum to observe the vaginal walls and cervix. If conducting a Pap test, the doctor swabs the cervix to collect cervical cells for testing.