Aging & Health A to Z
Diagnosis & Tests
A pelvic examination is the main physical exam used by healthcare professionals to feel and see if your pelvic organs are in good health. During a pelvic exam, your healthcare professional will check your vulva, vagina, cervix, uterus, rectum, pelvis, and ovaries—for masses, growths or other abnormalities.
A pap smear, or pap test, may also be done during a pelvic examination. Your healthcare provider will take a swab of the tissue inside of your cervix. Pap smears are useful to figure out if you have any infection or abnormal tissue, and to help detect any pre-cancerous changes.
For older women, a pap smear is recommended at least once every 3 years. Women 65 and older who have been tested before and have had three normal Pap smears, can stop the testing at this point. Women 65 and older who have never been tested before can stop after two normal annual Pap smears. Pap smears are not necessary if you have had a hysterectomy (removal of parts or all of the female reproductive organs), but it is still important to have a pelvic exam to make sure the remaining tissues are healthy.
Your healthcare professional will also perform a manual breast exam to feel for any unusual lumps in your breasts and armpits.
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast tissue to look for lumps and other abnormalities in the breast. A mammogram is recommended every 2 years in women aged 50-75. After age 75, women should talk to their healthcare professional about continued screening, because the benefits of testing beyond this age are uncertain.
There are two types of mammograms:
- Screening Mammogram. A screening mammogram is an x-ray of each breast in two different positions: sideways, and from top to bottom.
- Diagnostic Mammogram. A diagnostic mammogram may be recommended after the screening mammogram, if the radiologist (the doctor who reads the x-ray) wants to further examine your breast tissue. Diagnostic mammograms focus on a smaller area, instead of the entire breast, and can magnify the x-ray of that area to see things in more detail.
This is an additional, painless method of imaging your breast tissue, which may be done if any unusual areas show up on your mammogram or diagnostic mammogram.