What is a Well–Woman Exam?
A well–woman exam is an annual examination performed by a medical provider to check a woman’s overall health. A well–woman exam usually consists of: a general physical exam, breast exam, Pelvic exam, Pap smear, an update of family health history, a review of your health history, update of current medications and refills, evaluation of need for further screenings and an update on immunizations. If you don’t understand something your doctor says during your visit, don’t be afraid to ask. (See the Health Literacy handout for more advice.)
What is a Pap Smear?
- A Pap smear is a screening to check for changes of the cells of your cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens into the vagina (birth canal.) It can tell if you have an infection, unhealthy cells or cancer.
- All sexually active women and women over 18 years old should have one every year.
How is a Pap Smear Done?
- First, you’ll lie down on an exam table and put your feet in stirrups, letting your knees fall to the side (a sheet will cover your legs and stomach.)
- Then the health care provider will put an instrument called a speculum into your vagina, opening it to see the cervix.
- Next, the medical professional will use a special stick, brush or swab to take a few cells from inside and around the cervix.
- Finally, the cells will be placed on a small glass slide, and sent to the lab to make sure they are healthy.
How to prepare for your Well–Woman Exam:
- Don’t have sex or use a tampon for a full 24 hours before your appointment.
- Finish using any vaginal creams, gels or films 48–72 hours before your appointment.
- Do not put anything in your vagina two days before. (This includes douching which is an unhealthy habit anyway. For detailed information, see the Douching handout.)
Talk to the participant about why annual well–woman exams are important and prepare her for what to expect at her appointment.