What to Expect at the Well Woman Exam

What is a well woman exam and why do you need one? The well woman exam is an annual physical that focuses on health issues that are specific to women. Women are screened for various cancers, in addition to checking for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, and colon cancer.

Cervical cancer: This screening begins at age 21 regardless of sexual activity (1). There have been recent changes that point toward decreasing the frequency of Pap smear testing for low-risk women. If you are above age 30, a Pap smear and HPV test can be performed every 5 years (1). A Pap smear without an HPV test may also be performed every 3 years. If you have had a complete hysterectomy (which includes removal of the cervix), regular Pap smears are no longer needed. For most women, this type of screening can be discontinued at age 65 if you have a history of adequate screenings.

Breast cancer: Screening for breast cancer includes a clinical breast exam every 3 years in females between the ages of 20-40 years and annually for females above 40 years old. Additionally, yearly mammograms are recommended starting at age 40. Women who are considered to be high-risk for this type of cancer may need to begin screening sooner (2).

Colon cancer: Once a woman turns 50 years old, a colonoscopy should be performed. If results are normal, a follow-up colonoscopy is repeated in 10 years. Some individuals who are high-risk for colon cancer may need to begin screening at an earlier age (2).

Osteoporosis: All females over the age of 65 are offered an osteoporosis screening via a bone density scan, also called DXA (or DEXA) scan. Hormonal changes in women of this age can put them at an increased risk for osteoporosis. Screening may be done sooner if the patient is considered to be high-risk (2).

Global annual health assessment: This includes obtaining vital signs, measuring blood pressure, and ordering blood work to screen for high cholesterol and diabetes. This assessment also includes a detailed discussion of lifestyle, sexual health, vaccinations, and mental well-being.

Many insurance companies allow free preventative screenings not subject to a deductible or coinsurance, so check with your insurance company and schedule your well-woman exam today!

(1) The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
(2) U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
(3) The American Cancer Society