Pelvic examinations may be recommended for sexually active people. The procedure takes place in an examining room and is done by a trained clinician.
The pelvic exam involves three steps:
- an external exam
- an internal exam with a speculum
- a bimanual examination
The external exam consists of a visual inspection of the genitalia, to ensure everything looks healthy (i.e., no signs of STIs or structural abnormalities).
The internal examination involves opening the vagina with an instrument called a speculum. This holds the vaginal wall open so that the cervix can be seen clearly by the doctor/nurse and any necessary tests can be done.
Pap screening (Papincolaou Smear)
With a speculum in place to hold the walls of the vagina open, the doctor/nurse does the Pap screening using a slender wooden spatula to gently remove cells from the surface of the cervix and cervical canal. Often, a small brush-like device is also used to get cells from the internal cervical canal. The sample is placed on a microscope slide and sent to a provincial lab for examination.
Pap screening is an excellent method of detecting changes in the cells of the cervix before cancer actually develops, and is recommended for all sexually active people starting at age 25. People who have never had sexual contact are exempt from the Pap screening. Other sexually transmitted infections can be tested for at the client's request or recommendation of clinician.
Why are Pap tests important?
Because the cervix lies at the internal end of the vagina, it is vulnerable to infections caused by bacteria and viruses shared through intercourse. Infection may lead to a change in cell development on the surface of the cervix that could develop into cancer over time.
Factors that increase the chance of cervical cancer include:
- A history of more than one sexual partner
- A weakened or compromised immune system
At Opt cilnics, testing for STIs can be done at the same time. Specific swabs are used to take samples from the cervical opening and are placed in tubes sent to the BC Center for Disease Control (BCCDC).
These procedures are usually not uncomfortable, but may occasionally cause some cramping.
How long does it take to get the test results?
Test results for Pap screenings take about 4-6 weeks to return from the lab, while STI results can be back in approximately two weeks.
The bimanual exam is done by the nurse/doctor and involves feeling the reproductive organs to ensure they are also healthy.
The clinician introduces a gloved and lubricated finger into the vagina to locate the cervix and then lifts the cervix to bring the uterus closer to the abdominal wall. With the other hand placed on the client's abdomen, the doctor/nurse will feel for and locate the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries, checking for discomfort as well as the size, shape, and consistency of these structures.