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Are Annual Exams Needed?

March 30, 2012, 6:14 PM by Casey Wonnenberg

Are Annual Exams Needed?

Are annual doctor appointments needed?  That's what more people are wondering as national guidelines keep changing.

Wendy Meyer has been scheduling annual doctor appointments for years. She says it gives her peace of mind, but the changing guidelines have caused her to think twice.

"I think you hear conflicting things. Sometimes they tell us, 'Yes, get it done,' and then they also tell you do the HPV vaccines. Now they're saying, 'You don't need to do the pap screens,' so it's kind of a conflicting thing," Meyer said.

But Obstetrician/Gynecologist Dr. Amy Kelley-Osdoba says people like Meyer don't actually need a pap smear every year. Not everyone should follow that guideline though.

"People who have had abnormal pap smears in the past or LEEP procedures in the past may not be a good candidate to extend their pap smear timings," Kelley-Osdoba said.

"Even though national guidelines now show you don't need a pap smear every year, Kelley-Osdoba says you should not put off your annual visit to the doctor.

"Pap smears are really basically a screening test for cervical cancer. They don't screen for other issues. They don't screen for ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, and they certainly don't screen for breast cancer. Those would be other reasons why people should consider coming in every year," Kelley-Osdoba said.

Meyer hasn't had a mammogram yet but says that might be the most confusing recommendation because not all medical groups agree.

"That also is something that is important to touch base with your doctor about, depending on your family history of things like breast and ovarian as well as colon cancer. That may sway doctors to recommend other things," Kelley-Osdoba said.

Despite all the recommendation changes, Meyer says she's not changing her routine just yet.

"I know that they've talked about not doing the pap every time I come in. I did one this year. I'll probably discuss it next year to see if anything has changed," Meyer said.    

Kelley-Osdoba says she does worry the new recommendations could cause some people to avoid annual doctor visits and that could impact their health.  But she believes it is a step in the right direction, so patients do not undergo too many unneeded procedures.

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