‘Obstetrics and Gynecology’ is not just a medical department for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. It can be easy to forget or misunderstand, but all women should get regular check ups and manage their genital health regardless of pregnancy or childbirth status.
If Vaginitis or similar mild illnesses are neglected and treatment is not started early, it can continue to recur or develop into a chronic disorder that is difficult to treat, and there is a risk of worsening to a more serious disease.
Keep in mind that even serious diseases such as cervical cancer can have no symptoms at all in the early stages. Even if you don't notice any health problems, you should have regular check-ups. It is one of the surest ways to respect and cherish your body.
Women’s Essential Regular Check-up
✔️ When to start?
After the age of 12 from the start of secondary gender development, it is advised to consult and see a specialist if possible. Diagnosis and treatment of any diseases or abnormalities during puberty can affect menstruation and reproduction during adulthood.
After becoming an adult, you should visit a hospital regularly for examinations from 6 months to once a year. According to the guidelines of the Korean Women's Oncology Association, Korea recommends a cervical cell test once a year because the incidence rate of cervical cancer is relatively high. If both the cervical cancer and human papilloma virus test are both negative, the test cycle may be increased to once every two years.
Other countries may have different recommendations. In Australia where the HPV vaccine uptake is high, the test is now recommended once every five years. The UK recommends every 3 years for women aged between 25 and 49. Germany recommends yearly testing for women aged 20 to 30 years, with testing every 3 to 5 years after that.
✔️ What to do Before you go?
1) Choose the hospital/clinic and date
🏥 Make you choice
If it is your first time visiting a women's medicine department, it is better to choose the hospital and the doctor carefully. Many women have unpleasant experiences during testing processes and are reluctant to visit the hospital afterwards. Use the hospital website and local community to identify the information of the hospital to visit in advance. Considering the gender of the doctor and the field of expertise, you may be able to select and reserve the doctor you want to receive treatment from.
🗓️ On the Day
The most ideal examination period is five to seven days after the end of menstruation. In the case of a pap smear, it is recommended to receive it between 10 to 20 days from the start of menstruation. In addition, mixing other foreign substances such as blood or semen in the test can cause abnormalities in reading the results, so it is recommended to avoid sex, using tampons, and contraceptive suppositories or gels two days before the test.
Gyno check-ups are not impossible during menstruation. However, it is not recommended in cases of high bleeding. In addition, there may be restrictions on some tests, so make sure to consult with the hospital when making your reservation.
2) Take Notes of your Body's Symptoms
Write down anything you want to know about your health in advance, such as questions about vaginal discharge, menstrual pain, changes in your menstrual cycle, contraception methods, and any suspicious symptoms. When you go to the hospital, it can be hard to remember or express the questions you have. Try to organize the things you want to know before going to the hospital. If you have problems with menstruation in particular, it is best to know about the recent cycle in detail.
3) Have Courage
Visiting the hospital alone can be difficult. If you need support, take along a close friend, partner, or parent. For minors, it is recommended to be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Your support person can help you ask about medical information, or you can ask them to wait outside when conducting the examination.
✔️ At the Hospital: Reception and Examination
When you arrive at the hospital, you will go through the reception process. There may be a process of asking medical information for reference in the examination. Most clinics collect information in the form of questionnaires, but sometimes doctors or staff may ask directly. If you don't want to let your companion know the information, just say that you want to proceed privately and have them wait in the waiting room.
Based on the information and requests provided by the patient, the doctor's consultation and examination will be conducted. Many hospitals have a "package" screening option that binds several tests. You can choose one of them or select and receive only the desired tests. After the simple interview process is over, the detailed examination will be conducted. Make sure you receive a sufficient explanation of the process, procedure, and precautions of each examination.
✔️ At the Hospital: Examination and diagnosis
Tests performed vary according to the patient's age, symptoms, and personal characteristics. The most common tests for women in their 20s and 30s who do not have a pregnancy plan are as follows.
1) Cervical Cancer Screening (Pap Test or Pap Smear)
☑️ Screening for cervical cancer or specific vaginal or cervical infections. 👩 Recommended once a year for women aged 20 or older who have started having sex. ⚠️ Vaginal creams and lubricants should be avoided up to 2 days before the test. No sexual intercourse. Avoid scheduling the test during menstruation. 🔎 A 'speculum’ is inserted into the vagina to help collect the cells for analysis.
2) Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Testing
☑️ A test to find out if there is a high-risk virus for cervical cancer. Can predict the risk of developing cancer before cell transformation progresses. 👩 Women over 30 years old. Once every two years. If the pap test results were positive. If you have a history of STI’s. Recommended for those with an active sex life or frequent symptoms of vaginitis. 🔎 The test is conducted in the same way as the pap test.
3) Reproductive System Ultrasound Test
☑️ An examination to detect diseases by observing any growths or structural abnormalities in the ovaries. 👩Women over 20 years of age. Recommended every 6 months to once a year. If the amount of menstruation increases or menstrual pain becomes severe. In cases of irregular bleeding ⚠️ For an abdominal ultrasound it is recommended to drink 1 to 2 glasses of water 1 to 2 hours before the examination. For vaginal ultrasounds try to urinate just before the test. If you do not have any sexual experience, you can choose to receive an anal ultrasound. Tests are possible even during menstruation. 🔎 Lubricating gel is applied to the probe and body and then the probe is used to read the ultrasound images
4) CA-125 Blood Test
☑️ A blood test used to monitor ovarian and endometrial cancers during and after treatment, and to screen for early signs for those at high risk. 👩 Recommended for women over 20 years of age, once a year or two. Recommended if you have a family history or high risk of ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer. ⚠️ Best to avoid during menstruation. 🔎 Samples are obtained through simple blood collection for analysis.
✔️ Cost of Examination
- In South Korea Women aged 20 or older can receive a free pap test through the "National Cancer Screening Support Project" once every two years. Aside from the pap test, an additional HPV test can cost between ₩40,000 to ₩60,000 (KRW).
- In the USA a pap test will typically cost between $50 and $150 (USD) without insurance, though additional costs for the pelvic exam and follow up visits may be added on. They are offered at OB/GYN offices, urgent care centers, Planned Parenthood and The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.
- In the UK cervical screening is covered by the public health system, though can involve long waiting times for both the test and results. At a private hospital it can cost between £165-365 (GBP), depending on the hospital and practitioner.
- In Australia the cervical screening test is free for women aged 25-74 though some doctors may change a consultation fee for the appointment. You can look up a clinic nearby that offers bulk billing, and ask about any potential costs.
- In Japan an annual pap smear can cost around ¥10,000 (JPY), though some areas offer special subsidies for eligible residents.
- The women's medicine department, called obstetrics and gynecology, is not just a place for women preparing for pregnancy and childbirth
- Adult women should receive regular cervical screening
- Research your countries recommendations and health insurance schemes to protect your health