In a pelvic exam, the doctor checks the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder and rectum. The doctor feels these organs for any abnormality in their shape or size. A speculum is used to widen the vagina so that the doctor can see the upper part of the vagina and the cervix.
The Pap test is a simple, painless test to detect abnormal cells in and around the cervix. A woman should have this test when she is not menstruating; the best time is between 10 and 20 days after the first day of her menstrual period. For about two days before a Pap test, she should avoid douching or using spermicidal foams, creams, or jellies or vaginal medicines (except as directed by a physician), which may wash away or hide any abnormal cells.
Women should have regular checkups, including a pelvic exam and Pap test, if they are or have been sexually active or if they are age 18 or older. Those who are at increased risk of developing cancer of the cervix should be especially careful to follow their doctor's advice about checkups. Women who have had a hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus, including the cervix) should ask their doctor's advice about having pelvic exams and Pap tests.