A pelvic exam is a way for doctors to look for signs of illness in organs in a woman's body before, during, and after menopause. The word "pelvic" refers to the pelvis. The exam is used to look at a woman's:
Uterus (the womb)
Vagina (the muscular canal which extends from the cervix to the labia)
Rectum (the chamber that connects the colon to the anus)
A woman's body size determines the sensitivity of the pelvic exam to identify an abnormality. Unfortunately, it is more difficult to examine patients who are heavier. Sometimes a doctor may order an ultrasound to confirm the findings on a pelvic exam.
Menopause symptoms, like hot flashes and drop in sex drive, haven't changed. But the way women deal with menopause has.
"Women are becoming more accepting of the physical and emotional challenges that are associated with menopause and accepting them as natural, transitional changes," says Karen Giblin. She's the founder of Red Hot Mamas, a national menopause education program. "They're focusing on feeling good and looking at menopause more positively."
Because the risk of cancer increases with age, having regular pelvic exams may help in early detection of certain cancers in both menopausal and postmenopausal women.
How Often Should Menopausal Women Get a Pap Test?
Combining a Pap test with a human papillomavirus (HPV) test can safely extend the interval between cervical cancer screenings from three years to five years in many women between the ages of 30-65, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
Women over age 65 can stop getting screened if they’ve had at least three consecutive negative Pap tests or at least two negative HPV tests within the previous 10 years, according to the guidelines. But women who have a history of a more advanced precancer diagnosis should continue to be screened for at least 20 years.
And women of any age who’ve had a hysterectomy with removal of the cervix and no history of cervical cancer or advanced precancerous abnormalities do not need to be screened, according to the guidelines.
Still, even though you may not need a Pap test every year, you should still have an annual gynecological exam to protect your health.
Do I Need to Do Anything to Prepare for a Pelvic Exam?
You do not have to do anything special to get ready for a pelvic exam. When you arrive at the office, your doctor may ask if you need to use the bathroom. This question is asked so that you can stay comfortable during the exam. Sometimes, a urine sample is requested.