Potential Harm

No medical benefit to pelvic exams for millions of healthy U.S. women, task force says

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The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said on Tuesday that while millions of healthy women undergo routine pelvic exams each year, there is a lack of evidence that doing so benefits them, as studies show it does not decrease a woman’s chance of developing illnesses such as ovarian cancer or dying prematurely. Besides having minimal benefits for women who are not pregnant or do not have any pelvic symptoms, the routine exams can also potentially cause harm. While the exam could potentially lead to the discovery of medical issues such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids and others, it might be better to treat those only as early symptoms appear. Moreover,  the rate of “false positives” for these exams (finding issues that aren’t there) ranges up to 46 percent, which could lead to women undergoing additional, unnecessary tests and procedures that can include biopsies or surgery. The task force is allowing comments on its draft recommendation until July 25, and will issue its final recommendation after that – which could help the federal government and other, private insurers decide which procedures they will cover. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) currently still endorses annual pelvic exams for women over the age of 21, but said it would review the draft. ACOG president Dr. Thomas Gellhaus said his group’’s current position “is based on expert opinion” rather than rigorous scientific evidence, admitting that the“limitations of pelvic exams should be recognized.”

Read the full story at STAT.

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