I know I first had my exam at Planned Parenthood about fifteen years ago when I was only fifteen, I didn’t know it was a well woman exam at that time. I went to that exam for one reason, I needed to get started on prescription birth control. I didn’t realize I was being proactive in my healthcare. I just knew the steps I needed to do so I would not get pregnant. I don’t remember how I learned about Planned Parenthood, or how I knew I could go there, but I went. I started out getting my first well woman exam at the age of fifteen.
So, my immediate thought was that a female should have her first well woman exam when she first becomes sexually active. That is when I started researching the recommendations and guidelines. Although the guidelines for a Pap exam have changed in the past fifteen years one thing has stayed consistent. In order for a woman to receive a prescription birth control she must see her doctor (please note, this has changed recently in two states and it terrifies me, but that is another discussion all on its own). I suggest visiting a doctor trained specifically as an ob-gyn. If your daughter isn’t comfortable telling you that she needs to see a doctor for birth control please make sure she knows the resources available to her, such as her family doctor, an ob-gyn, Planned Parenthood, or any other local clinic. As much as you might want to believe that your teenagers are not sexually active, statistically, they probably are. Even if your teenager ins't sexually active, eventually he/she will be. This information you are providing them can be some of the most important information you ever share. I got off on a bit of a tangent there, time to get back on track.
When I heard this question I started out doing research on the CDC as well as conducting a survey of my readers with questions related to well woman exams. These results were very interesting and you will hear more about them later this month. If you'd like to take the survey, please follow this link.
I would like to answer this question in two ways. First, my personal stance. I think that it is important for you to openly discuss medical options available to your daughter. Personally, I feel like a well woman exam is about much more than just a Pap and/or HPV test. There are elements like birth control, STD testing, breast exams, and personal medical questions which take place at a well woman exam. These are integral to a female’s health. It is possible you, your daughter, niece, friend, or another other female may need to go for your first well woman exam before it is recommended for you to start receiving a Pap exam and/or HPV test.
Secondly, I’d like to explore the current (as of 2015) CDC guidelines for Pap exams and HPV tests:
- Regular Pap tests should begin at age 21 (no matter which age you become sexually active)
- Regular Pap tests and HPV test should begin co-testing at age 30
- Regular Pap and/or HPV test should continue until age 65, as directed by your doctor
These are the three basic guidelines provided by the CDC. More in depth research gives guidelines based on your testing history. For example, if you have a history of normal Pap tests your doctor may extend the amount of time between your Pap tests up to three years up to the age of twenty-nine. Starting at the age of thirty, if you have a normal Pap test and your HPV test comes back negative for HPV they could extend your test to five years. If you are super interested in seeing where the leading organizations stand on the topic of cervical cancer screening for low risk females please check out the information available at the CDC. Guidelines for individuals who are at risk for cervical cancer due to abnormal Pap tests, positive HPV tests, or specific symptoms are completely different and I will address those in a separate upcoming post.
Now, here is the important part. Does this mean you don’t need to go in for a well woman exam? NO! This does not mean you should wait for three to five years to see your doctor. As I stated previously there is much more to your well woman exam then simply receiving your Pap test and/or HPV test. Much more!
Personal opinon here - I also urge everyone to go to a trained ob-gyn for your well woman exam. They are trained to ask probing questions to determine if there is something wrong which you might not even think of. I look at it this way, I could buy a cupcake from a store that sells everything and it will be okay OR I could buy a cupcake from a store that specializes in cupcakes and it will be outstanding! Same with my exam, I could see my family doctor for my well woman exam and it will be okay OR I could see a trained ob-gyn for my well woman exam and it will be outstanding!
I don’t know about you, but for my family I will choose outstanding every time!