News from the FDA/CDC

Long-term trend: Women receiving fewer pelvic exams


The percentage of women receiving pelvic exams fell significantly from 1988 to 2017, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Women aged 15-44 who received a pelvic exam in the past year

Sixty-five percent of women aged 15-44 years had received a pelvic examination in the past year when asked in 1988 as part of the National Survey of Family Growth, but the 3-year average for the 2015-2017 surveys was 53%, a significant decline, the NCHS said in a recent report.

The decrease was seen in all three of the age subgroups – 15-20 years, 21-29 years, and 30-44 years – over the length of the study period, with the trend in only the oldest women not reaching significance. The 30-44 group also was the only one of the three in which the rate ever increased at any point, the survey data show.

Data for other subgroups focused on the last 3-year period. From 2015 to 2017, non-Hispanic black women were more likely to have received a pelvic examination in the past year (60%) than were non-Hispanic white (54%) or Hispanic women (45%). An association with education level also was seen: Women with a bachelor’s degree or higher were most likely to get an exam (69%), and those with less than a high-school degree were least likely (52%), the researchers reported.

In 2018, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists altered its recommendation that annual pelvic examinations be part of the well-woman visit for those aged 21 years and over, advising instead “that pelvic examinations be performed when indicated by medical history or symptoms,” the NCHS authors explained. They also suggested that their data “could provide a benchmark for estimates of the prevalence of pelvic examinations before the 2018 ACOG-updated guidelines.”

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