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St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center

St. Joseph's Health Connections

Aug 9 2013
The Well Woman Exam: More Than Just a PAP Smear

Each year, millions of women take charge of their health and participate in the well woman exam. Knowing what to expect and why this exam is important helps reduce the hesitation and stress some women feel about this annual gynecological examination.


The well woman exam is a routine medical appointment with your health care provider, meant to improve sexual, reproductive and general health. This is also an opportunity to talk with your provider about any issues or questions. On the first visit, your provider takes an extensive personal and family medical history to get to know you and determine your needs based on age and risk factors.


For example, a 30-year-old woman probably does not need a colonoscopy, but a 50-year-old woman does.

The physical exam includes a breast exam, a pelvic exam and an overall health assessment. A nurse takes your vital signs and measures your height and weight. Then, your provider performs a complete physical. Every well woman exam involves a breast exam, though not all pelvic exams involve a PAP smear.


The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women have yearly PAP tests until age 30, after which the recommended frequency is reduced for low risk women. Depending on your age and/or health history, a mammogram is ordered. A yearly mammogram is recommended for age 40 and above.


Your provider will review your health history, new information you’ve provided and results of the physical exam to make recommendations tailored to your needs. You will be counseled regarding nutrition, exercise, immunizations, cancer screening, smoking cessation, birth control and other pertinent issues.


The well woman exam is essential to lifelong health. Take advantage of this time with your provider and discuss all health care issues. Your participation and wisdom are necessary and welcome.



Prepare For Your Visit


Help your provider give you the best care by coming prepared on the day of your exam. First, it is important that you provide a complete family history. Certain cancers or illnesses run in families.

This information is critical in accessing your risk factors. Second, bring in a list of medications and supplements including doses. Finally, make a list of any questions or problems that you want to discuss.


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The information provided on this site should not be taken as medical advice. As always, we strongly recommend that you consult with a physician if you have any medical concerns.