I remember when I had my first 'check-up' when I turned 18, I felt like I'd been brought into the fold. Like menarche, it was one more step toward becoming a full-fledged responsibly procreating (or not) member of society. My mom was firm with my sisters and I about the importance of an annual exam, so it didn't seem like quite the chore to me that it did for others.
I tried to put it in the perspective that I was making the choice between a fifteen minute appointment once a year to stem concerns or cervical cancer that goes undetected for several years? Hmmmmm...such a difficult decision. I'm always a little surprised when someone avoids their exam for several years at a time. I'd talk to other girls my age and their reasoning was "Well, I'm not having sex yet, so I don't need to have someone poking around." It was usually the same people that thought using a tampon would remove their status as a virgin.
As women, it's important that we carefully look at our options when it comes to anything 'down there', which includes seeking both appropriate preventative care and timely treatment of ongoing concerns. All too often, we rely solely on the physician currently treating us to provide us with all of the information used to make our health care decision and/or to create a treatment plan.
A recent study performed by AAGL, which is a not-for-profit organization of physicians 'dedicated to advancing the safest, most efficacious and least invasive diagnostic and therapeutic techniques to treat women's pelvic health disorders' concluded "When half of women suffering from a given condition are unaware that they may be candidates for a minimally invasive procedure that spares them pain, time and disruption of their lives, there is a clear need for stronger efforts in patient education."
While the women surveyed did agree that it was their responsibility to ask providers for alternatives to total abdominal hysterectomies, the vast majority (myself included) trust in their provider to present them with all the options, including those with the shortest recovery and smallest impact on finances and family.
Further the survey concluded that less than 40% of women were aware of the hospital stay, scar and significant recovery period associated with TAH. In contrast to a TAH, a laparoscopic hysterectomy is minimally invasive, can be done on an outpatient basis and enables most women to resume normal activities within a week. Most women didn't know that a laparoscopic hysterectomy was an option.
I feel like I'm a fairly well-informed person when it comes to my health options, simply because my husband is a physician and dialogue about health issues is common in our house, but I am certainly thankful for resources such as AAGL. In the end, my goal would be that my provider and I would be able to work together in order to make the decision that was best for me, considering social and financial aspects of my life as well as the medical. I know that my OB-Gyn would be very open to my coming to an appointment armed with information and specific questions, and I would hope that would be the same for others.
I looked around at the site, and there is a lot of information provided, including a glossary of terms and physician finder. The glossary may be the most helpful because sometimes the medical lingo is the biggest barrier.
You can read the full results of the study in order to get more detailed information. I love that it's called "minimally invasive gynecology" because if it was called non-invasive, you'd know it was coined by a man. All sarcasm aside, I think the important thing is that women be aware of their options, actively use resources to educate yourself in order to be an informed patient and to be generally proactive regarding your own health.