Even if you have had a hysterectomy, gynecological exams are still important! Many women don’t realize that they still need regular gynecological care even after a hysterectomy. Skipping your exams may mean skipping important health screenings and preventative care. Talk to one of our treatment providers about your situation. They recommend regular gynecological exams based on your circumstances and risks.
Before we discuss why you may still need gynecological exams after a hysterectomy, let’s talk about what a gynecological exam is. These exams address the female anatomy and reproductive system. They are an important part of regular well woman care.
Gynecological exams may be different for everyone and tailored to your individual risks. They may include a pelvic exam, a pap test, and other well woman care like general health questions and screenings. One of our treatment providers can discuss your medical history, family history, and other factors with you to determine appropriate screenings and exams during a gynecological exam.
A pelvic exam involves a few different steps to assess the health of your pelvic organs. The exam may start with an external exam of the vulva, vagina, and surrounding area. This can help detect visual signs of things like cysts, abnormal discharge, irritation, and other potential gynecological issues. The doctor may also look for signs of warts or potentially cancerous skin growths.
The pelvic exam may also include a manual exam where your provider will put one or two gloved and lubricated fingers into your vagina and press on your abdomen with their other hand. This can help assess a few things, such as the size of your ovaries and fallopian tubes. The manual exam may help detect signs of ovarian cysts or tumors. Also, it may help assess for any pain or tenderness, which might be the result of an infection or another condition.
In addition, your pelvic exam might also include a speculum exam. The speculum is a tool made of metal or plastic that helps open the vagina. This can help allow our treatment provider to see the walls of your vagina and the cervix (if you still have a cervix after a partial hysterectomy). During the speculum portion of the pelvic exam, your provider may also take samples of discharge from your cervix. This can help with testing for things like sexually transmitted infections. In addition, they may also take samples of cervical cells for a pap test or HPV test.
A pap test is a screening used to look for signs of cervical cancer. The test involves collecting cells from your cervix and analyzing them in the lab for abnormalities. Abnormal cervical cells can be one of the first signs of cancer or precancerous cells. In some cases the doctor may also use the same sample from the pap test to perform an HPV test to look for the HPV virus, which can increase the risk for cervical cancer.
In some cases, you may not need pap tests after a hysterectomy. For instance, if you have had a complete hysterectomy (where the surgeon removed both the uterus and the cervix) for reasons not related to cancer and you have a history of normal pap tests, then you may not need to continue getting pap tests. This is a conversation you can have with one of our providers based on your health, history, and risk factors.
Depending on your unique circumstances, your gynecological exam may also include other screenings. For instance, our providers may recommend a breast exam, bone density screening, and other tests to address your health.
Breast exams can help screen for breast cancer. The doctor feels the breast and may do a visual exam to look for changes in the breast tissue and skin. For example, lumps or abnormal discharge that might point to breast cancer. For women over 45 years old, most doctors recommend regular mammograms to screen for signs of breast cancer as well. In some cases a mammogram may require a separate appointment from your annual gynecological exam.
Our providers may also recommend other health exams or screenings when you come in for a gynecological exam. These may be based on your individual circumstances and risks. For example, they may recommend bone density scans to look for early signs or risk factors of osteoporosis. Other screenings might include cholesterol screenings, hormone level tests, or body composition assessments to help you address your health as a whole.
A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure that removes all or part of the uterus. There are a few different types of hysterectomy procedures. Depending on the type of hysterectomy, the surgeon may also remove the cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, the upper part of the vagina, and nearby lymph nodes. It’s a common misconception that women who have had a hysterectomy no longer need gynecological exams. However, regular pelvic exams are still an important part of preventative care for many women, even if they no longer have a uterus.
One important reason to talk to your doctor about whether you need regular gynecological exams is because providers may perform several cancer screenings during the exam. Even if you no longer need a pap test after a hysterectomy to look for signs of cervical cancer, our providers may perform other cancer screenings during a gynecological exam. For instance, providers may look for signs of cancer on the vagina, vulva, ovaries, and other organs. While a hysterectomy can decrease your risk for some types of cancer, you may still need regular screenings. For instance, even if your ovaries were removed, there is a small chance that leftover ovarian cells could become cancerous after the hysterectomy.
Another reason our treatment providers may recommend regular gynecological exams after a hysterectomy is to help monitor your sexual health. This may include treatment plans for vaginal dryness that makes intercourse uncomfortable, regular testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and other care to help you have a safe, healthy, and enjoyable sex life.
Gynecological exams also check many other pelvic organs, such as the bladder, rectum, and other organs in the pelvic area. Gynecological exams may be part of a multifaceted strategy for checking pelvic organ health. One common condition that your treatment provider may detect during a gynecological exam is pelvic organ prolapse, where the pelvic floor weakens and allows the pelvic organs to slip down and bulge into the vagina.
In addition to regular well woman appointments with gynecological screenings, you may also need to schedule an appointment for a gynecological exam due to symptoms you experience. Some of these symptoms may be signs of a health condition, so our providers may recommend a gynecological exam to help identify underlying causes of your symptoms and to help rule out other health issues. Some symptoms to talk to our medical providers about include:
As a clinic operated by women for women, our team at HerKare is here to offer compassionate care at every stage of life. Whether you need regular well woman exams and birth control management or are wondering what types of exams you need after menopause, we are here to help. Our goal is to help empower you to prioritize your health by providing quality health care and a team that listens. Book an appointment now to discuss your health with our providers!