If you are a woman, chances are you’ve heard that you need to go see an OB/GYN once you turn 21 or become sexually active. You may even have heard that you need to get a pap smear. But what does OB/GYN stand for, and what is a pap smear?
An OB/GYN is your expert on reproductive health, and a pap smear is an important test to help detect and prevent cancer. Read on to learn more about what all this means and why you need to make an appointment with your OB/GYN every year.
What Does OB/GYN Stand For?
OB/GYN is a shortening of the words obstetrician and gynecologist. Both deal with female health, and in particular, with female reproductive health. Because the roles are so closely related, many doctors who specialize in one specialize in both.
An obstetrician cares for people before, during, and after pregnancies. This includes helping with fertility issues, performing checkups during the course of the pregnancy, and making sure that you’re is healthy after the birth. A gynecologist focuses on female reproductive health outside of pregnancy, including things like cancer screenings, birth control, sterilization procedures, and other such needs.
What Happens During an Annual Wellness Exam?
A big part of an OB/GYN’s job is performing an annual wellness exam. The first part of the exam involves the usual check-up procedures to make sure your chart at that office is up to date. A nurse will weigh you and may take your blood pressure or take blood for a screening panel.
But this appointment primarily serves to check up on your reproductive health. Your doctor will perform a manual breast exam to check for lumps or changes, check your uterus and ovaries for similar issues, and may perform a pap smear. They will also talk to you about any issues with your period, any change in your reproductive health (including a change in your vaginal discharge or sex drive), and any medication questions you may have.
Importance of Annual Wellness Exams
These annual wellness exams are important for a variety of reasons. For one thing, this exam may serve as a yearly physical for many people. This may be the only time of year where major health issues like increased blood pressure or sudden weight loss or gain are examined.
But an annual wellness exam is also crucial in screening for cancer and catching it early. In the early stages, breast cancer is highly treatable, and 99 percent of people who catch the disease in its localized stage survive. Pap smears and uterus and ovary exams also help to catch cervical, uterine, and ovarian cancers at early stages before they have a chance to metastasize.
What Is a Pap Smear?
So what is this pap smear thing we keep talking about? A Papanicolaou test, or pap smear for short, is a way to test the cervix to look for cancerous or precancerous cells. This test is quick, usually painless, and can go a long way to catching cervical cancer when it’s early enough to treat.
Your cervix is located at the top of your vagina and is the narrow transition from your uterus to your vagina. When cervical cancer first begins to develop, certain types of abnormal cells can begin to show up in the lining of your cervix. The pap smear takes a sample of this lining and looks for those abnormal cells, as well as signs of human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer.
Why Pap Smears Are Important
In the early 1900s, cervical cancer killed more people with cervixes than any other kind of cancer. Part of the reason for this is that by the time cervical cancer shows symptoms, it’s often too late. The cancer is too aggressive, and even today, only 66 percent of people who seek treatment after they start showing symptoms survive.
But thanks to the pap smear, survival rates for cervical cancer have skyrocketed. If it’s caught in the localized stage, 92 percent of people survive cervical cancer. And thanks to screenings for HPV and the development of the Gardasil vaccine, fewer cases of cervical cancer are developing each year.
What to Expect
If you’re between the ages of 21 and 65, it’s recommended that you get a pap smear done once every three years. Your doctor will ask you to undress and provide you with a paper robe to wear during the exam. When it comes time for the pap smear, they’ll ask you to lay down on the table and put your feet up in stirrups.
Your doctor will use a tool called a speculum to hold your vagina and cervix open. You may feel some pressure or a little bit of pain during this, but if you feel extreme pain, let your doctor know. Your doctor will swab the inside of your cervix, which you won’t feel, and then the pap smear will be over.
How to Find an OB/GYN
Whether you’ve moved or are trying to find an OB/GYN for the first time, it can be difficult to find a doctor who works well for you. One good place to start is by asking for recommendations from local friends and family. Ask the people in your life what doctor they see and if they would recommend them.
If you don’t have any local loved ones yet, check online listings for doctors in your area. Read reviews and don’t be afraid to shop around a bit to find a doctor you’re comfortable with. With such a sensitive area of your healthcare, you should have a doctor you can trust.
Start Taking Care of Your Health
Going to your annual OB/GYN appointment and getting a pap smear is crucial to your health. Knowing the answers to questions like, “What does OB/GYN stand for?” can make you feel more confident as you enter this process. Make sure you set up an appointment each year and take care of your reproductive health.
If you’d like to make an appointment with an OB/GYN, come see us at 67th Street OB/GYN. We provide total women’s health care, and we are committed to providing the highest quality and most advanced health care and diagnostic services for women of all ages. Contact us today to make an appointment for your next annual wellness exam.