A Well-Woman’s Visit is More than Just a Pap Smear

March 01, 2023
3 min read


Angela K. Hardyk, MD, FACOG


Most people know the importance of an annual checkup with their healthcare provider. However, there often needs to be more clarity about the preventative healthcare services women should get each year. A comprehensive well-woman exam, often called an annual gynecological exam, screens and evaluates sexual, menstrual and reproductive health, physical health, and mental health. Family planning and sexually transmitted disease screening and testing are often also addressed during these examinations.   Additionally, as a woman ages, it evaluates for irregular bleeding and menopausal symptoms that may occur.  The visit may include a pelvic exam, a Pap test, and a breast exam.

If you have no problems or issues, the first well-woman exam should be done when you become sexually active or by age 21. You should schedule an exam regardless of age or sexual activity if you have persistently irregular periods, periods that cause you to miss work or school, or pelvic pain. A Pap smear is not necessarily done at every visit, but should be done at age 21.  The Pap smear is the screening test for cervical cancer.  Screening is based on age and risk factors for cervical cancer which include age at onset of intercourse, number of sexual partners, history of Human Papilloma Virus infection, history of abnormal Paps in the past, history of sexually transmitted illness. 

At your visit, you will also be evaluated for the need for other preventative health services such as mammography, colonoscopy or other colon cancer screening tests, and bone density (DEXA) scans for evaluation for osteoporosis.  It is important to know your family history of certain cancers such as breast and colon cancer to know at what age to start, and how often to perform, these screening tests.

A well-woman exam should also address your overall physical health and any changes that have occurred since last seen. It should include discussing your lifestyle, weight, blood pressure and risks for chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.  We will review your current medications and allergies, so bring your list of medications with you.  A well-woman exam should not replace an annual exam with your primary care physician.  They test and screen for other things that the gynecologist does not.

Your well-woman visit should also include a discussion about your mental health. If you feel anxious or depressed, you should feel comfortable telling your healthcare provider. They can give you feedback and recommend a licensed counselor. If you live in an unsafe situation, your healthcare provider can advise resources to change or exit this dynamic.

Mount Nittany Health’s OB/GYN specialists provide routine well-woman exams, reproductive healthcare, fertility services, and pregnancy and maternity care, as well as menopause care. Call 814.237.3470 to schedule an appointment with a specialist.

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