SOGC Committee Opinion| Volume 41, ISSUE 8, P1221-1234, August 2019

No. 385-Indications for Pelvic Examination



      The primary objective of this document is to clarify the indications for pelvic examination.

      Intended Users

      Physicians, including gynaecologists, obstetricians, family physicians, and emergency physicians; nurses, including registered nurses and nurse practitioners; midwives, including midwives in clinical practice and midwifery trainees; medical trainees, including medical students, residents, and fellows; and all other health care providers who care for women.

      Target Population

      This publication provides evidence and expert-based recommendations for pelvic examination in adult women (18 years and older) both with and without gynaecologic symptoms.


      This publication clarifies indications for pelvic examination in the context of recently published national task force statements on the utility of pelvic examination. We aim to ensure that women who have clinical indications for examination receive proper clinical investigation with minimal delays to diagnosis of treatable disease.


      For this committee opinion, relevant studies were identified in PubMed and Medline using the following terms, either alone or in combination, with the search limited to English-language materials and human subjects and no publication date cut-off: pelvic examination, bimanual examination, speculum examination, rectovaginal examination, ovarian cancer screening, asymptomatic women, periodic health examination. The search was performed in May and June 2018. Relevant evidence was selected for inclusion in the following order: meta-analyses, systematic reviews, guidelines and national task force statements, randomized controlled trials, prospective cohort studies, observational studies, non-systematic reviews, case series, and reports. Additional articles were identified by cross-referencing the identified publications. A formal systematic review was not conducted for all topics discussed due to the paucity of evidence and number of different subtopics discussed. The total number of publications included in this review was 66.

      Validation Methods

      The content and recommendations were drafted and agreed upon by the principal authors. The Boards of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology of Canada (GOC), the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC), and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) approved the final draft for publication after review by their respective representative committees. The quality of evidence was rated using the criteria described in the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) methodology framework (Tables 1 and 2). The Summary of Findings is available upon request.

      Benefits, Harms, and Costs

      This committee opinion should benefit all women with and without gynaecologic symptoms who present to gynaecologists and primary care practitioners. It will help guide practitioners in identifying indications for pelvic examination to reduce unnecessary examination with related potential harm while also increasing indicated examination to reduce delays in diagnosis of treatable gynaecologic conditions.

      Guideline Update

      This SOGC Committee Opinion will be automatically reviewed 5 years after publication to determine if all or part of the committee opinion should be updated. However, this review may be performed earlier if new high-impact research is published in the interim.


      • 1
        National and international statements and guidelines on pelvic examination should not be interpreted to suggest that the pelvic examination is irrelevant or noncontributory to physical assessment or that the pelvic examination in symptomatic women should be omitted.
      • 2
        Pelvic examination may include visual inspection, speculum examination, bimanual examination, single digit examination, and/or rectovaginal examination depending on the indication for examination.
      • 3
        No study published to date has adequately evaluated any component of the pelvic examination as a screening method for any type of malignant gynaecologic disease, except for the speculum examination for cervical cancer cytology screening. As such, any universal recommendations for or against pelvic examinations for other indications can only be made based on expert opinion and low-quality evidence.
      • 4
        In asymptomatic women at average risk for cervical cancer, cervical cytology screening reduces both the incidence of, and mortality from, cervical cancer by detecting pre-invasive, treatable lesions.
      • 5
        In asymptomatic women at average risk of malignancy, a visual and bimanual examination at the time of obtaining cervical cytology samples may add value to this screening manoeuvre: Women might not raise certain gynaecologic concerns until the time of pelvic examination; the examination provides an opportunity for patient education and practitioner skill maintenance; and, although inadequately studied to date, there may be positive effects on ovarian and vulvar malignancy that require further investigation. These potential benefits should be weighed against potential harms like patient discomfort and false positives/negatives that may result in inappropriate reassurance or unnecessary investigations/interventions.


      Symptomatic Women
      • 1
        Any woman with gynaecologic complaints including, but not limited to, vulvar complaints, vaginal discharge, abnormal premenopausal bleeding, postmenopausal bleeding, infertility, pelvic organ prolapse symptoms, urinary incontinence, new and unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms (abdominal pain, increased abdominal size/bloating, and difficulty eating/early satiety), pelvic pain, or dyspareunia should undergo appropriate components of the pelvic examination to identify benign or malignant disease (strong, low).
      • 2
        Health care providers may consider discussing the risks and benefits of performing a baseline pelvic examination including visual and bimanual examination prior to prescribing hormonal replacement therapy/menopausal hormonal treatment (weak, very low).
      Asymptomatic Women
      • 3
        Health care practitioners should perform cervical cytology cancer screening in accordance with provincial/territorial guidelines (strong, strong).
      • 4
        There is insufficient evidence to guide recommendations on screening pelvic examination for noncervical gynaecologic malignancy or any benign gynaecologic disease in healthy, asymptomatic women with average risk of malignancy. However, health care practitioners may consider performing a screening pelvic examination including visual, speculum, and bimanual examinations in concert with cervical cytology sampling intervals as recommended by provincial/territorial guidelines. This practice may identify clinically important benign or malignant disease not recognized or reported by the patient (weak, very low).
      • 5
        In women over age 70 who no longer require screening with cervical cytology, health care practitioners should consider continuing periodic screening of asymptomatic women for vulvar disease with inspection of the vulva, perineum, and anus to identify benign or malignant disease unrecognized by this population. There is insufficient evidence to guide recommendations on frequency of this examination (weak, low).
      • 6
        Women with a personal history of gynaecologic malignancy, a genetic diagnosis that increases gynaecologic malignancy risk, or a history of in utero diethylstilbestrol exposure may benefit from more frequent screening pelvic examinations to identify early primary, recurrent, or metastatic malignancy in the absence of symptoms. Because there is inadequate evidence to define these screening intervals, they should be in accordance with provincial/territorial guidelines and expert opinion (weak, very low).
      • 7
        Non-invasive and self-collection screening options for chlamydia and gonorrhea are acceptable in asymptomatic women, but pelvic examination, including visual inspection, speculum examination, and bimanual examination, is required in the presence of symptoms to rule out pelvic inflammatory disease or tubo-ovarian abscess (strong, low).
      • 8
        No pelvic examination is required prior to prescription of hormonal contraception in a healthy woman with no gynaecologic symptoms (strong, low).

      Key Words

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