Annual gynecological exams with breast and pelvic exams are recommended for women starting at age 19. Girls should have their first visit between 13-15 to discuss reproductive health. Read on to learn why you should see your gynecologist every year.

1. Screen for breast cancer

One component of a visit to the gynecologist is a thorough breast exam. Your doctor will palpate (examine by touch) your breast tissue to feel for lumps or hard spots. If any are found, you may be referred for further diagnostic tests, like a mammogram or ultrasound. When breast cancer is diagnosed early, there is a better chance of successful treatment.

2. Screen for cervical cancer

Part of your annual gynecology exam is a test for cervical cancer called a Pap smear. A swab is used to take cells from your cervix for evaluation under a microscope. This test is important to watch for changes that could lead to cervical cancer and to identify cancer early. Early detection improves treatment success. Pap smears are typically done every 3 years but may be more frequent if you have certain risk factors.

3. Check for problems with your uterus and ovaries

During your annual physical exam, your doctor will perform a pelvic exam. They will check for lumps and irregularities on your uterus and ovaries. They will also conduct a visual inspection externally to look for redness, irritation, and bumps or cysts.

4. Discuss birth control options

There are many birth control options and it can be overwhelming to choose which one is best for you. Your doctor can help you choose the right form of birth control based on your preferences and goals. Some women may prefer an injection if they forget to take daily pills. Other women may like the long-term protection of an intrauterine device (IUD). With such a large list of options, a discussion with a professional is helpful.

5. Plan pregnancy

Perhaps you have decided you would like to have children. At your annual examination, your gynecologist will review your fertility and health history. They may also perform a brief fertility evaluation. Your doctor may suggest scheduling a pre-conception consultation. This appointment will give you more time to discuss your pregnancy plans in detail.

6. Monitor for sexually transmitted disease

If you are at risk for contracting a sexually transmitted disease, regular testing is an important component of your exam. Risk factors include having sexual contact with more than one partner and having sex without a condom. Your gynecologist is happy to discuss your risks and provide testing without judgment.

7. Discuss problems with sex

Problems with sex may include pain, vaginal dryness, or low libido. All of these symptoms can lead to emotional distress and dissatisfaction with your sex life. Openly discussing your symptoms and concerns is an important step in getting a diagnosis and treatment.

8. Talk about challenges with domestic violence

Sadly, domestic violence and partner violence is quite common. Nearly 1 in 4 women are estimated to experience some form of it – physical, emotional, sexual, economic, or psychological. Most gynecologists will ask you questions about your relationship and your honesty is vital. They will maintain your confidence and connect you with helpful resources.

Women who are experiencing domestic violence may be afraid to speak up, but doing so could change your life for the better.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, call The Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Reproductive health is an important component of your overall health and wellbeing. Don’t delay seeing your gynecologist – schedule an exam today!