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No matter if a woman is single, married, straight, lesbian, bisexual, sexually active, asexual, or abstinent, having an annual exam is an important part of health and well-being. During this type of exam, a health care provider can check for abnormalities, infections, discuss normal findings, explain symptoms or changes in the body, and help educate about birth control and safe sex options that are available.
It is very normal to be nervous about your visit, particularly if you have never had an exam before. You may feel embarrassed to have a provider examine you, scared the exam will hurt, or you might be worried that something is wrong or you have a problem. Our goal is to give you information to help you be more prepared for the exam to hopefully ease any anxiety you might be feeling.
The type of annual exam you have is based upon your age. Student Health Services follows the 2012 guidelines endorsed by both the American Cancer Society, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the United States Preventative Services Task Force, when providing care to women. Pap testing (cervical cancer screening) is no longer routinely recommended for women under 21, nor is it recommended annually for women over 21.
Contraceptive methods come in many different forms including hormonal, barrier, and natural family planning methods. All of these methods work to accomplish one goal: prevention of pregnancy. Some of the methods also provide the added benefit of protection from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). When choosing a method, be sure and pick one you are likely to use consistently and correctly for the best protection rates. Student Health providers are happy to discuss options available for contraception.
Contraceptive methods available at ECU SHS:
The best way to notice changes in your breasts is to do a regular self exam—if you do not know what is normal for you, you will not be able to notice changes in your breasts that could signal a problem. If you find a change, see your health care provider right away.
Most breast changes or lumps are NOT cancer. However, when breast cancer is found early, you have more treatment choices and a better chance of recovery. Regular breast self exams are an important screening test you can perform to help with early detection of breast problems.
Breast self-exams should not take the place of regular screening mammograms or clinical breast exams, which are done by a healthcare provider.
What exactly are you looking for when you are doing a self exam?
It is hard to know what is “right” or “wrong” for your body, unless you have a basic idea of what is normal for you. Breast Self Exam (BSE) is a great way to establish a healthy level of self awareness about your breast. Breast tissue is made up of glands and other tissue that can feel lumpy to the touch. The amount of lumpiness varies for each person.
You are looking for lumps that:
• Stand out
• Are 1/2 inch in size
• Are persistent and unchanging
• Represent any difference from normal breast tissue
Also note any changes in the skin around your breasts, any pain or discharge from your nipples, or any other finding that seems different than normal. It is important to know that the consistency of breast tissue changes throughout the life cycle and the monthly menstrual cycle. To learn how to perform a BSE, visit "The Five Steps of a Breast Self Exam".
If you notice any changes in your breasts, feel any lumps, or want to talk to a provider about breast health, please schedule an appointment.
If you have just found out that your Pap test is not normal, you are probably wondering “What now?” First, realize that an abnormal Pap test does not indicate that you have cervical cancer. But, depending on your age and your medical history, you may be asked to have Pap tests more frequently or you may be referred for a special test (colposcopy) that will help evaluate what was not normal about your Pap test. For more information on abnormal Pap tests, visit WebMD.
The Pap test can show when cells are abnormal on the cervix. It could be an area of atypia or dysplasia, which could be related to things like normal hormonal changes, or possibly to HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). In rare cases it may be early cancer. Atypia, dysplasia, and early cancer do not cause pain, itching, or discharge. It is important to obtain treatment for atypia or dysplasia if recommended by your health care provider.
An abnormal Pap test suggests that there was a chance some of the cells on your cervix were abnormal. Depending on your age and medical history, you may be advised to then have a colposcopy, which is a procedure that allows providers to better see your cervical cells.
Your visit will be similar to your exam for your Pap smear. You will lie on the exam table, undressed from the waist down, and your feet will be placed in the stirrups. The colposcope does not touch your body; it is a special camera that helps the provider see your cervix in detail. The health care provider will look closely at your cervix for any cells that are abnormal, and if an area of abnormality is found, a tiny sample of tissue will be taken from the cervix. This sample of tissue is called a biopsy. It will be sent to a lab to be studied. When the biopsy is taken you may feel a pinch and afterwards, you may notice light vaginal bleeding for several days. The results of the colposcopy and biopsy will help determine what treatment will be best for you.
For more in depth information on colposcopy, including what to expect during the appointment, visit WebMD.
Student Health does perform colposcopy, by appointment only. If you have had your Pap test at an outside provider's office and the procedure has been advised, please make sure to have your Pap records sent to SHS prior to scheduling your colposcopy. To schedule an appointment, or to find out pricing information, please call (252) 328-6841. Have a general question about abnormal Pap tests, colposcopy, or cervical cancer prevention? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preparing for your colposcopy exam
1. The colposcopy cannot be done during your period.
2. Do not douche during the three days before your appointment.
3. Do not have sex for twenty-four hours before your appointment.
4. Always let the ECU Student Health Service know if you cannot keep your appointment or if you decide to have your colposcopy performed at an outside office.
After the colposcopy exam...
Do not douche, use a tampon or have sex for seven days after the biopsy so that the area can heal. Results are normally available about a week after the procedure. When you return to learn about the results of your biopsy, the health care provider will talk with you about the treatment or follow up that is best for you.
For the next year to year and a half, you may need to have Pap tests more frequently.
Student Health provides services for sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing and/or evaluation for gynecological problems.
• Want STI testing but not currently having any symptoms? If you are symptom-free, you can schedule a visit with the Fast Track nurse to test for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and/or syphilis. Make sure not to urinate within 1 hour of your appointment time.
• Having STI symptoms, need testing for warts or herpes, or need to see a provider for a gynecological problem? Make a clinic appointment with one of our providers.
Unsure what the symptoms of an STI might be for a woman? If you have any of these symptoms, you must schedule an appointment with a provider.
• Unusual vaginal discharge, odor, burning, or itching
• Pelvic pain or lower abdominal discomfort
• Irregular vaginal bleeding that is not your period
• Pain with intercourse
• Sores, bumps, or blisters around your genital or anal area
• Burning with urination
The staff at Student Health Service recognizes that talking frankly and honestly about sexuality issues is uncomfortable for some people. It is important to remember that the more information you share with the health care provider, the better they can help to meet your needs. Quality health care begins with good communication between patients and health care providers. Be prepared to address topics concerning your sexual history, current sexual behavior, methods of contraception and STI risk reduction, and any current symptoms that you may be experiencing. These questions are asked for medical reasons and will ensure the best care possible. All information is confidential. Based on the shared information, your provider will determine appropriate tests for you.
You should consider getting tested for STIs if you have ever:
- Had unprotected (no barrier device was used) oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone of an unknown STI status.
-Had intercourse under the influence of alcohol or other drugs and cannot remember what happened.
- Shared IV drug needles with an infected person or someone whose STI status was unknown.
- Had a past or current sex partner that told you of their infection with an STI.
Want to learn more about the types of STIs, treatment, and prevention? Visit our self care guides.
Have a general question about STIs? E-mail us at email@example.com.