Spa treatments, hot dates, special outings with a friend . . . we know it’s easy to keep the appointments you’re looking forward to, and that your annual OBGYN visit may not be at the top of that list. Especially when it’s sometimes unclear why you need to go.
But it turns out there are several benefits of visiting your OBGYN annually, whether you’re having an issue or not.
Time to Screen
Recommendations for cervical cancer screenings — tests which can help detect early signs or heightened risks of cervical cancer — have evolved in the last several years, but they are still important when it comes to protecting yourself against cervical cancer.
Tests for human papilloma virus (HPV) are specifically designed to test for the presence of HPV, which is a highly common sexually transmitted disease and the primary cause of cervical cancer. Pap smears, on the other hand, test for abnormal cells on your cervix which may later develop into cervical cancer. Depending on your age, sexual activity, and other risk factors, recommendations about which tests to take and when can vary, which is where your annual gynecologist visit can help.
Cervical cancer screenings aren’t the only tests your gynecologist can help you navigate. Since the standards for mammograms, sexually transmitted infection testing, colon screening, bone density testing, immunizations, and other health routines can vary widely (and be hard to keep track of), meeting with your gynecologist on a regular basis can help you stay on top of all of it.
The appointment also serves as a great time to receive a clinical breast exam — even if you’re conducting self-exams monthly on your own — and an opportunity to learn about ovarian and peritoneal cancer symptoms to be on the lookout for.
Time to Talk
Beyond tests, vaccinations and screenings, there are lots of benefits to annual gynecology appointments. Your gynecologist is a medical professional who also cares about you as a whole, healthy person after all, and meeting each year keeps that relationship going. It ensures you’re both continually engaged in the conversation about your body, lifestyle, changes in habit, new symptoms or developments in old ones, questions that have come up (possibly during a horrified internet search), and anything else that could impact your sexual and reproductive health. You can also both use this time to look ahead and talk frankly about what to expect when it comes to any future physical changes, and how your care may shift with them.
During your annual exam, take some time to be sure you both cover:
- The baseline for what is normal for your body (usually established during your first appointment), making comparisons against it to track your current health
- Changes or concerns that may not be picked up through a screening
- Any changes in your vaginal discharge (consistency, smell, frequency, etc.)
- How your monthly menstrual cycle is going, and whether or how tracking might be useful
- Questions and issues around your sexual health
- Pregnancy goals (or how to make sure you don’t get pregnant)
- Any incontinence challenges
- Your digestive health, including your nutrition
- The impact on your health of stress, major life changes (marriage, a new job, etc.), emotional swings, and your sleep patterns.
Though an annual gynecological exam may have the potential for discomfort and embarrassment, the more common it is, the easier it becomes. Your girlfriends may still remain steady go-tos for your Lady Issues, but the unique atmosphere of medical reassurance and proactivity created in your gynecological exams may mean you even look forward to them.