Should pelvic exams still be recommended by OB/GYNs? - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Should pelvic exams still be recommended by OB/GYNs?

New concerns are being raised about the reliability of pelvic exams. (Source: KPLC) New concerns are being raised about the reliability of pelvic exams. (Source: KPLC)

60 million women get pelvic exams every year with the purpose of detecting cancers, infections, or sexually-transmitted diseases.  Now, a new report is raising concerns about whether or not these exams are reliable.

Dr. Gisele McKinney is an obstetrician/gynecologist with the Memorial Medical Group in Lake Charles and has performed countless pelvic exams.  She says these visual and physical examinations are a way for doctors and nurses to look for signs of illness in certain organs in a woman's body.  

"The exam is usually a pap smear, sometimes cultures, and a bimanual exam, which is putting your fingers in and feeling for the ovaries and the uterus to see if there are any abnormalities," said Dr. McKinney.

She says preventative screenings for early detection should not be discouraged.

A recent statement from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force finds there is not enough evidence to know the benefits or harms of doing this exam on low-risk women. 

"They've done this also with self breast exams, pap smears, so there's a trend in the past three to five years to just decrease the amount of studies and tests we do for preventative healthcare on women," said Dr. McKinney.

The task force is only looking at a small population of women, according to Dr. McKinney, and not recommending for teens, pregnant women, and those with signs of a gynecological problem to forego the pelvic exam.  She says if women are discouraged from this preventative screening, the results could be life-threatening.

"My fear is that when we cut out the bimanual exam for whatever reason we decide to do that, that women will not come and we'll miss something and people will start dying."

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists still recommends the annual exams for women over the age of 21, but says there are known limitations.  Meanwhile, the task force raising concerns is asking for more research to understand the benefits or harms of this exam that costs two and a half billion dollars every year.

The public can comment here on the draft recommendation by this task force through July 25.  That feedback will help determine the final recommendation, which the federal government and some private insurers can use to decide what procedures to cover.

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