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Seven Reasons Not to Skip Your OB-GYN Appointment

Woman at OB-GYN appointment.

Staying current on OB-GYN appointments gives women an invaluable resource for addressing a multitude of issues related to women’s health — but also so much more. In addition to an annual exam and Pap test visits, women can schedule a visit because of irregular periods, difficulty getting pregnant or hormone fluctuations.


Sloan May, a certified family nurse practitioner who provides care at Atrium Health Navicent Women’s Care OB/GYN with Dr. R. Edward Betcher, Dr. Vincent Fang, Dr. Siping "Sherry" He and Dr. Felisha Kitchen, says a woman’s OB-GYN visit may also be a first line of defense when it comes to identifying other important health concerns and risk factors.


“It’s incredibly important to find an OB-GYN care provider that you trust and schedule regular appointments to keep a steady check on your health,” May said.


Seven reasons to visit your OB-GYN

Here are seven reasons why you should make OB-GYN visits part of your routine health care:


1: Annual exam

Each year, women should schedule an annual exam with an OB-GYN care provider. At this visit, you will receive a pelvic exam and a breast exam. During the pelvic exam, your provider will check your internal and external reproductive organs for signs of disease, including cancer. During your breast exam, your doctor will check your breast tissue for lumps and other early signs of cancer. At the annual exam, you may have a Pap test, which is also called a Pap smear.


2: Pap test

A Pap test is the most important method for preventing cervical cancer. Each year in the United States, about 11,500 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, cervical cancer is preventable with regular screenings and HPV vaccines. During the Pap test, your OB-GYN gently removes cells from the cervix and back of the vagina and checks them for cancer. The earlier you treat cervical cancer, the more likely you’ll have a good outcome. 


The CDC recommends that women between the ages of 21 and 65 receive a Pap smear every three years. Women ages 30 to 65 should receive a Pap smear in combination with HPV testing every five years.


“All women should start Pap testing at age 21. If the results are normal, the test should be repeated every three years. However, you may need earlier or more frequent screening if you have a higher risk for cervical cancer, such as having a family history or a previous cancer diagnosis,” May said. “It’s always important to follow the guidance of your doctor on frequency of Pap testing, and communicate any changes in risk factors or family history each year at your annual wellness exam.”


3: Gynecologic cancer screening and risk assessment

In addition to checking for cervical cancer, a pelvic exam screens for vulvar, vaginal, endometrial and ovarian cancer — all of which are much more rare than cervical cancer.


Another important part of your annual exam is general risk assessment. Your OB-GYN care provider will review your family history to see if you’re at higher risk for certain gynecologic cancers.


“Learning if you have a higher risk of cancer allows you to be more proactive by doing increased screening to try to detect cancer earlier, or take preventive measures to reduce the risk altogether,” May said. “Based on that risk assessment, you may be eligible for genetic testing, counseling and additional screening, all of which are offered here at Atrium Health Navicent.


4: Other health screenings and referrals

At your annual exam, your OB-GYN care provider may perform additional health screenings. If needed, they will refer you to other experts who help support your multidisciplinary care team. Some of these health screenings include:

  • Blood pressure check. Blood pressure can affect pregnancy and long-term health. If your blood pressure is elevated, your provider may refer you to your primary care provider for further testing and treatment.

  • Diabetes, thyroid and lipid screening. Depending on your age and other risk factors, your provider may request bloodwork to check your blood sugar, thyroid and lipid levels. Based on the results, they may refer you to a specialist for additional testing and treatment.

  • Depression and anxiety screening. Your provider will discuss your overall mental well-being. Since many women are busy with everyday life, work and family responsibilities, there may not be many opportunities for them to discuss symptoms of depression and anxiety. If needed, your provider can refer you to a therapist for diagnosis and treatment.

  • Mammogram. If you are 40 years of age or older, you will be referred to breast imaging experts for your annual mammogram. A mammogram may be recommended earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer.

  • Colonoscopy. Based on your age and other risk factors, your provider may refer you to a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy. This intestinal diagnostic tool is used to identify gastrointestinal cancer and other types of digestive disease.


5: Hormone advice and support

Depending on the stage of life, hormone needs fluctuate for women. For example, young women often need hormone advice and support related to birth control and family planning. Women in perimenopause — the transitional period before menopause — and menopause need to understand what to expect during these life stages and how to manage symptoms. Your OB-GYN care provider can provide tips on balancing hormones and prescribe supportive medication during these stages.


6: Testing for sexually transmitted diseases

STD screening is recommended for patients under age 25 or in other sexually high-risk groups. Since many patients do not show symptoms when they have an STD, routine screening is suggested.


7: Education and rapport building

OB-GYN care providers like May believe it’s important to help women understand their reproductive system and their menstrual cycle. By educating women on what’s normal and what’s not, they can be proactive in scheduling an appointment when they notice a problem.


For example, a breast exam is always performed during a woman’s annual wellness exam. As the doctor performs the exam, patients simultaneously are taught how to perform a breast self-exam, a vital step in early cancer detection. Patients are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at home on a regular basis.


OB-GYNs also play an important role in their patients’ multidisciplinary care team.


“We can’t assume that just because a woman is keeping up with her annual gynecological exams, that means she’s also regularly seeing her primary care doctor. So, it’s important that we use our visits as an opportunity to check in with patients about other critical health factors and even conduct bloodwork,” May said. “If we see something concerning, we’ll make sure they are referred to a primary care provider or other specialist if needed.”


Women should be proactive in managing their reproductive health, and the first step is establishing a relationship with an OB-GYN care provider you trust. If you have a question about your health, be sure to get the facts from your doctor, and not from online medical platforms or social media.


Schedule an appointment with an OB-GYN care provider at least once a year for your annual exam, and be diligent about keeping any follow-up appointments.


“By seeing women regularly and proactively managing their conditions, we’re helping to prevent disease and save lives in our community,” May said. “We have the tools to help women of all ages and circumstances live longer, happier and healthier lives — all you have to do is reach out!”


Atrium Health Navicent Women’s Care provides care for women at every stage of life from routine exams and maternity care to treatment of gynecologic conditions. To schedule an appointment, call 478-633-1821.


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