New advice issued on Monday from the American College of Physicians urged doctors to stop performing routine pelvic exams in healthy women who aren’t pregnant and have no troubling symptoms to warrant the exam. The new guideline published in the Annals of Internal Medicine was based on a review of 52 studies that found no evidence that pelvic exams helped detect serious health problems like ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, or vaginal infections early enough to save a woman’s life or preserve her fertility.
Whether obstetricians-gynecologists change their practice based on this new recommendation remains to be seen: Their own medical group, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, stated that it stands by its own guideline issued last year, which recommends an annual pelvic exam for women 21 years of age or older.
I asked two gynecologists this question. Do you agree with the new guideline recommending against pelvic exams? Here are edited excerpts from my interviews with them.
Dr. Daniela Carusi, director of general gynecology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital
The question of whether we should abandon annual pelvic exams in women who have no gynecological symptoms has been around for a few years — ever since gynecologists were told to stop doing Pap smears every year in women with normal test results and to instead do them every three to five years.
Annual pelvic exams feel like a core part of what we do as gynecologists even if no one can justify why we’re doing them. Some gynecologists feel that patients come in expecting to have a pelvic exam. Even the annual breast exams we perform have not been proven to save women’s lives by catching deadly cancers earlier.
You have reached the limit of 5 free articles in a month
Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.
- High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
- Convenient access across all of your devices
- Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
- Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
- Less than 25¢ a week