For women, a pelvic examination by a health care provider can be a way to detect a medical concern early. But a recent report finds that millions of teenage girls are undergoing the exams unnecessarily, sometimes with troubling consequences.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Cancer Society, recommends against pelvic exams to screen most teens for cervical cancer during routine appointments. But many gynecologists do so anyway, often citing an abundance of caution.
This can be a problem for a number of reasons. First, there is the potential for false-positive test results, overdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment.
Perhaps an even greater concern is the anxiety associated with the invasive exams themselves, especially for teens. Researchers from the University of California, Davis, found that for that reason, many young women avoid going to a gynecologist.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of females between ages 15 and 20 found that more than 55% of the exams were unnecessary, meaning they were performed on young women who were not pregnant, did not have an intrauterine device or did not have sexually transmitted infections. This translated into nearly 3 million patients having an unnecessary pelvic exam.
Experts say that if physicians change their strategies about these exams, it could build better trust with patients while helping them avoid needless worry.