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The Difference between Pelvic Exam and Pap Smear

Men and women may share certain diseases and ailments. However, there are some that only women face on their own, just like men do with prostate issues. It is essential to be aware of these and more importantly, know how to properly diagnose these conditions in order to render appropriate treatment.

Health professionals are often asked – when is the right time to visit the gynecologist? Well, you have to bear in mind that prevention is the best cure. So, as much as possible, all women must visit their gynecologist yearly when they’ve reached the age of 18 or sooner if they are sexually active. During these visits a Pap smear and/or a pelvic examination is usually done. These are two different things and must not be confused for one another. Below are detailed explanations to better understand these diagnostic examinations.

Pelvic Examination

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A pelvic examination is a visual and manual examination of a woman’s reproductive organs. It is also known as manual uterine palpation or bi-manual examination. Some women would feel discomfort during the said exam, but more often than not, a pelvic exam is not painful. Extreme pain would indicate a pelvic disease or problem which will need further assessment.

A pelvic exam is categorized into two, these are:

  1. External Examination – this includes external palpation of the uterus, inspection of the external pelvic anatomy.

  2. Internal Examination – this is done by positioning the woman in lithotomy and inserting a vaginal speculum for better visualization of the pelvic area. This includes the assessment of the vulva, perineal area, vaginal canal, cervical canal, cervix and the Bartholin glands. Palpation of the uterus, ovaries, bladder and the rectum are also done in this category.

The following conditions are closely assessed during a pelvic examination:

  • Uterine and Ovarian Cancer

  • Abnormal growth

  • Rashes

  • Lesions

  • Inflammation (ex: Vulvular dermatitis, vaginal varicosities)

  • Sores

  • Pain and discomfort

  • Itchiness

  • Trauma or injury (Ulceration, sclerosis)

  • Irritation

  • Infection

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding or secretions

Pap Smear

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A Pap smear is a painless, quick screening test which would normally take 5 minutes. It is done to determine for any abnormal cell growth that would indicate cervical and endocervical, vaginal cancer.

The procedure is quite simple. A vaginal speculum is inserted into to the vagina to have a better view of the cervix. A cotton pledget or a cervical brush is then inserted to swab the tip of the cervix or the cervical os. The specimen is smeared on a slide and sent to the laboratory where a pathologist thoroughly examines it.

During a pap smear the vaginal wall is also swabbed to determine any abnormal cell growth. Vaginal cancer is rare, but unfortunately it does occur.

Notes:

  • During a pelvic exam and Pap smear, the woman is asked to urinate first. This is because the bladder may compress the vaginal canal which may obstruct the view of the cervix.

  • Women who are 70 years and above no longer need to have a pap smear, however, it is important to discuss this with a gynecologist because every case is different.

  • Women who had a hysterectomy no longer need to have a pelvic exam and Pap smear.

  • Some states such as the US and the UK require a consent before a pelvic examination and Pap smear

Final Thought!

Women can avoid reproductive disorders, it’s all about early detection.  Annual checkups are the best forms of preventive medicine, the earlier you catch a disease, the easier you get rid of it. If women will be able to keep up with their annual Pap smear and pelvic exam, chances are there will be decreased rate of morbidity and mortality related to women’s reproductive diseases.


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References :


[0]http://www.drlisalindley.com/pap_smears_pelvic_exams.html

[1]https://www.healthtap.com/topics/what-are-the-differences-between-a-pelvic-exam-and-a-pap-smear

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