A new article in the Journal of Women’s Health by Westhoff, Jones, and Guiahi asks “Do New Guidelines and Technology Make the Routine Pelvic Examination Obsolete?”
The pelvic exam consists of two main components: The insertion of a speculum to visualize the cervix and the bimanual exam where the practitioner inserts two fingers into the vagina and puts the other hand on the abdomen to palpate the uterus and ovaries. The rationales for a pelvic exam in asymptomatic women boil down to these:
- Screening for chlamydia and gonorrhea
- Evaluation before prescribing hormonal contraceptives
- Screening for cervical cancer
- Early detection of ovarian cancer
None of these are supported by the evidence. Eliminating bimanual exams and limiting speculum exams in asymptomatic patients would reduce costs without reducing health benefits, allowing for better use of resources for services of proven benefit. Pelvic exams are necessary only for symptomatic patients and for follow-up of known abnormalities. Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*
Cancer of the ovary is a particularly nasty disease. It often remains asymptomatic until it has reached an advanced, incurable stage, and scientists have been unable to develop an effective screening test for the disease like the ones in widespread use for cancers of the breast and cervix.
The dismal status of ovarian cancer screening was underscored a year ago when an NIH-sponsored study showed that over 70 percent of cancers detected by transvaginal ultrasound and CA 125 biomarker testing — the two best ovarian screening tests we’ve got — had reached stage III or IV at the time the patients screened positive. That’s about what happens when women aren’t screened at all.
That wasn’t the worst of it, however. In just the first year of that screening program, positive test results obligated 566 surgical procedures which uncovered only 18 cancers. That’s an awful lot of unnecessary surgery and associated morbidity right there. Things were no better on the false-negative side of things. Overall, 89 cases of ovarian cancer were diagnosed during the NIH study, and a third of them had been missed by both screening modalities.
The NIH study didn’t evaluate the impact of screening on ovarian cancer mortality, but a recent study by Laura Havrilesky and colleagues at Duke did indeed address the point. Sadly, the results were abysmal. Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Pizaazz*