Most Pelvic Exams For Teen Girls Unnecessary, Researchers Say Amid Sexual Abuse Concerns
New research suggests many teen girls undergo unnecessary pelvic examinations, raising additional concerns following a number of recent allegations raised against gynecologists and sports doctors in recent years who were found to be abusing young patients.
Researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that most of bimanual pelvic examinations or Pap tests conducted on teenage female patients in recent years appear to be medically unnecessary, invasive, and may resulted in overdiagnosis or extra medical costs. The findings were presented in a study was published on Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The bimanual pelvic examinations involve applying light pressure to a woman’s abdomen while inserting two fingers into the vagina, in order to check for unusual growths or signs of infection. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists determined in 2012 that the practice is unnecessary for women under the age of 21, except in special circumstances, such as pregnancy or the insertion of certain birth control devices, like IUDs.
Pap tests involve collecting cells from the cervix to check for cervical cancer.
In this new study, CDC researchers looked to see whether those new guidelines are being heeded. They conducted a cross-sectional analysis of the National Survey of Family Growth from September 2011 through September 2017. Their analysis involved 3,410 young women aged 15 to 20 to see if they had undergone either a bimanual pelvic examination (BPE) or a Papanicolaou test, more commonly known as a Pap test or Pap smear, in the previous 12 months.
According to the findings, researchers estimate that about 2.6 million young women undergo a BPE test in the U.S. every year, representing about 22.9% of women in that age group. Of those, 54.4%, or about 1.4 million, are unnecessary.
The findings also indicated about 2.2 million girls and women of the same age group receive a Pap test, of which about 72% were unnecessary.
“This analysis found that more than half of BPEs and almost three-quarters of Pap tests performed among young women aged 15 to 20 years during the years 2011 through 2017 were potentially unnecessary, exposing women to preventable harms,” the researchers concluded. “The results suggest that compliance with the current professional guidelines regarding the appropriate use of these examinations and tests may be lacking.”
Sexual Abuse Concerns
The findings have sparked questions, editorials and news reports about why the tests continue to be done, and whether it is due to a lack of knowledge about the new guidelines, or whether many may be the result of intentional sexual abuse during medical care.
The report comes on the heels of several high-profile cases where doctors abused young women through their positions as health care providers.
The most well known of those cases involved former Olympic gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar, who is serving life in prison for abusing hundreds of girls under his charge.
A number of investigations, both independent and congressional, found that Nassar was able to commit thousands of sexual assaults due to an environment that allowed his predatory nature to thrive.
Nassar received a federal sentence of 60 years on child pornography charges. He has also received two additional sentences; including one for 40 to 175 years, and another of 40 to 125 years from verdicts in two Michigan courts.
There have also been a number of sexual abuse lawsuits brought against USA Diving for alleged incidents of assault by coaches in that Olympic sport as well.
The other high profile case involved University of Southern California gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall, who is accused of sexually abusing female USC patients for decades, leading to more than 300 sexual assault lawsuits filed against USC, including a number of class action claims brought to pursue damages on behalf of all students treated by the former gynecologist at the student health center.
In February, the University agreed to settle the Tyndall lawsuits for $215 million.
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