University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Young Women Still May Be Getting Unnecessary Pelvic Exams

UCSF and CDC Study Finds Millions of "Outdated" Tests Being Performed on Healthy Females 15 to 20 Years Old

By Elizabeth Fernandez | UCSF.edu | January 6, 2020

Young Women Still May Be Getting Unnecessary Pelvic Exams

Pelvic examinations and cervical cancer screenings are no longer recommended for most females under age 21 during routine health visits, but a new study has found that millions of young women are unnecessarily undergoing the tests, which can lead to false-positive testing, over-treatment, anxiety and needless cost. 

Researchers at UC San Francisco and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 1.4 million pelvic examinations and 1.6 million Pap tests performed on U.S. females 15 to 20 years old in a single year may have been medically unnecessary. 

"Parents of adolescents and young women should be aware that cervical cancer screening is not recommended routinely in this age group."

GEORGE F. SAWAYA, MD

The findings suggest that despite professional guidelines and recommendations against routine pelvic examinations and Pap tests in this age group, there’s a critical lag in clinical practice. The estimated cost of these unnecessary exams was approximately $123 million a year.

The study appears Jan. 6, 2020 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Recent media reports have called attention to inappropriate gynecologic examinations in young women,” said senior author George F. Sawaya, MD, professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at UCSF and director of the UCSF Center for Healthcare Value.

“Parents of adolescents and young women should be aware that cervical cancer screening is not recommended routinely in this age group. Pelvic exams are not necessary prior to getting most contraceptives and are often not needed to screen for sexually transmissible infections,” Sawaya said. 

Cervical cancer screening is not recommended for individuals under age 21, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Cancer Society. Additionally, leading professional organizations recommend against performing pelvic examinations in asymptomatic women who are not pregnant.

Read more at UCSF.edu