Difference Between Pelvic Exam and Pap Smear (With Table)

The gynecological health of a woman is very essential. Doctors recommend women to get regular pelvic exams, and Pap smears done to ensure optimum health, but both of these can, sometimes, get confusing. Yet, both are very important to check for any abnormalities that may be found in your reproductive tract.

Pelvic Exam vs Pap Smear

The difference between a pelvic exam and a Pap smear is that a pelvic exam is a routine physical examination that is done to ensure gynecological health, whereas a Pap smear helps in the assessment of cervical cancer. A pelvic exam takes about 10 minutes, whereas a Pap smear takes about 10 to 20 minutes.

A pelvic exam is a routine physical check-up that assesses the health of your reproductive tract. It consists of two main parts, inspection and palpation. Inspection includes both an external examination and an internal examination. It can be done annually or after every 3 years, depending on the person’s preference.

On the other hand, a Pap smear is an exam that tests for cervical cancer or for the presence of pre-cancerous cells, which can help determine the potential of cancer. The doctor will take a sample of cells from the cervical walls for analysis. It should be done every 3 years after the age of 21 and after 30, every 5 years.

Comparison Table Between Pelvic Exam and Pap Smear

Parameters of ComparisonPelvic ExamPap Smear
MeaningIt is a routine physical check-up to examine your gynecological health.It is a test that is used for testing for cervical cancer.
Recommended routineEvery 3 threes from the age of 21 but some also prefer to get it done yearlyAfter 21, every 3 years, and after 30, every 5 years.
Presence of CancerThis can help in the assessment of vulvar, vaginal, and uterine cancer.It is meant to screen cervical cancerous cells.
ProcedureIt involves two main parts, inspection, and palpation.It involves scraping the cells near the opening of the cervix.
Duration10 minutes10-20 minutes and 1-3 weeks for the processing of the test results.

What is Pelvic Exam?

A pelvic exam is a part of a normal and routine physical exam that helps in the assessment of a person’s gynecological health. With the help of this exam, your doctor is able to notice any abnormalities in your reproductive tract even before they start showing any symptoms.

A pelvic exam can help in the detection of abnormalities like ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids. It also helps in the assessment of vulvar, vaginal, and uterine cancer that can’t normally be assessed through a pap smear.

There are two parts to a pelvic exam, namely, inspection and palpation. Inspection includes looking at the pelvic structure. This also includes an external examination and an internal examination.

The internal exam occurs with the help of a speculum which allows the doctor to see the cervix and vaginal walls. The external exam includes checking up on your vulva to observe any abnormalities like irritation, sores, swelling, etc.

During the second part, i.e., palpation, the doctor will place 2 lubricated fingers in your vaginal canal with one hand, and with the other hand, they press down on your abdomen to feel your internal organs.

A lot of people prefer to get a pelvic exam on an annual basis, but it can also be done every three years now. It lasts for about 10 minutes, so it’s a fairly short procedure.

What is Pap Smear?

A pap smear, also commonly known as a Pap test, is a test that is done to examine the presence of cervical cancer. Sometimes, a pap smear can be done while a doctor is performing a normal pelvic exam as well.

During a Pap smear, a sample of cells is taken from the interior walls of your cervix and then sent to a lab so they can be screened for cervical cancer. In the lab, the cells are assessed for several abnormalities that can indicate cancer or pre-cancerous cells.

The average duration of a Pap smear is around 10 to 20 minutes, and it will take 1 to 3 weeks for the test results to get back, depending on your doctor.

Your doctor will ask you to put up your legs in stirrups. Then they input an instrument known as a speculum in the vaginal canal to widen it and help reach your cervix. This won’t cause any pain whatsoever but main put some pressure on you. After collecting the required sample of cells, the doctor will remove the speculum, and further prepare the sample for analysis.

It is recommended for every woman to have their first Pap smear at the age of 21 and then after every three years. After turning 30, they can get a Pap smear every five years if everything is found normal.

Main Differences Between Pelvic Exam and Pap Smear

  1. A pelvic exam is just a routine check-up that examines and assesses your gynecological health, whereas a pap smear is done to predominantly test for cervical cancer.
  2. A pelvic exam is recommended to be done every 3 years after a woman turns 21, but it can also be done every year. A pap smear is to be done every 3 years after the age of 21 and every 5 years after a woman turns 30.
  3. A pelvic exam can help in the assessment of vulvar, vaginal, and uterine cancer. However, a pap smear helps in the screening of cancerous and pre-cancerous cells.
  4. A pelvic exam involves inspection (including the external and internal inspection) and palpation. During a pap smear, the doctor will scrape the cells near the opening of the cervix to get a biopsy done on them
  5. The duration of a pelvic exam is about 10 minutes, whereas the duration of a pap smear is 10 to 20 minutes, and it takes around 1 to 3 weeks to process the test results.

Conclusion

Pelvic exams and Pap smears are both very important for the assessment of a women’s health. Pelvic exams are done to examine your reproductive tracts for any abnormalities that may be found. It can also be done for the assessment of vulvar, vaginal, and uterine cancer. However, a Pap smear is done to assess for the presence of cervical cancer and for the indicators of cancers like pre-cancerous cells.

References

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1083318808003264
  2. https://journals.lww.com/tnpj/Abstract/2002/09000/How_to_Perform_a_Pelvic_Exam_for_the_Sexually.6.aspx
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