A pelvic exam is a common and painless screening women go through all the time. Gynecologists recommend pelvic exams as a routine screening for cervical cancer and STDs—both as a preventative measure and a way to detect disease before you even display symptoms.

What is a pelvic exam?

A pelvic exam is a standard procedure performed to examine the vulva, vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder and rectum. It’s also a routine prenatal exam for pregnant women. When used to diagnose infection or cancer, a pap smear may also be administered at the same time as the pelvic exam.

Gynecologists typically recommend an annual pelvic exam if you’re a woman or person assigned female at birth and are 21 years or older, sexually active or pregnant.

What to expect during pelvic exams

During the procedure, you’ll lie on your back on an examination table with your feet resting in supports called stirrups. Your provider may perform both a manual and speculum exam, or just a manual exam.

  • Manual exams: Provider examines the skin, vulva and perineum first. They then examine the vagina with two fingers to check for enlargement, tenderness or masses. This may include a rectal exam.
  • Speculum exams: Provider inserts a device called a speculum into your vagina. This device keeps the vaginal walls open and provides access to a better view of the cervix.

You may feel pressure, mild irritation or discomfort during and after the test. Your provider will follow-up with you to determine when your next pelvic exam should be scheduled.

Pelvic exams can diagnose a range of conditions, including ovarian cysts, sexually transmitted infections, uterine fibroids, vulvar conditions and even early-stage cancer. If you suspect that you may have any of these conditions, or are have noticed any changes in your pelvic health, talk with your doctor about having a pelvic exam.

Risk and benefits of a pelvic exam

As with any procedure, it’s important to be aware of the possible risks associated with pelvic exams, which include soreness. However, these risks are minor and a pelvic exam can also provide you the benefits of locating cysts and fibroids and diagnosing early-stage gynecologic cancers.

Next steps for patient 

If you’d like to meet with a provider and find the best possible care options, it’s time to reach out to Main Line Health. Schedule a visit with a specialist today.

Call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or request an appointment online.


Women's Health

Discover how Main Line Health provides comprehensive and compassionate care for women in all stages of life.