5 Tips to Get Your Cervical Health Back on Track

Ease your return to the doctor for routine OB-GYN screenings with these helpful notes.

January 11, 2022

For many of us, we prioritize the health needs of others before our own. Given the past two years, most of us haven’t attended our annual checkups: 38% of those who identified as women skipped preventive health services like yearly checkups or routine tests during the first year of the pandemic, and 23% skipped a recommended medical test or treatment, as reported by the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

“It’s understandable that the pandemic has caused patients to hesitate to visit their gynecologists’ offices,” said Karla Loken, D.O., OB-GYN, FACOOG, U.S. disease area partner at Roche Diagnostics. “But it’s so important to maintain those routine visits – even now. Your screening test and pelvic exam can help detect abnormal cells that could lead to problems down the road.” 

Around 93% of cervical cancers could be prevented by screening and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Early detection and diagnosis offer the best chance for successful treatment, so don’t skip those appointments!” Loken said. “Screening truly can prevent cervical cancer.” 

This applies to anyone who has a cervix. Many transgender men and nonbinary people assigned female at birth have reported barriers to care due to stigma, discrimination or healthcare providers with limited health knowledge about trans people. “Care today has improved and is more informed," Loken said. "Most OB-GYN and primary care providers are trained to address concerns for any patient with a cervix. Specialized centers also exist for patients to obtain care that is sensitive to their comprehensive care and needs.”


Visiting the OB-GYN can be challenging. Learn 5 tips for your visit.


  1. If you don’t have a scheduled appointment, book one soon. Typically, that appointment takes place a few months after the day you call to schedule an annual exam. If you canceled your last visit or put off rescheduling, don’t hesitate.  
  • Give your doctor’s office a call and get a new visit on the calendar.

  • Even if you’re pregnant, you should get routine cervical cancer screening.

  • Check your insurance before your scheduled visit to determine if your employer provides wellness incentives for pelvic and annual exams.

  • Schedule your next annual before leaving the doctor's office.

  1. Be prepared for office protocols. The pandemic has likely changed the flow at your doctor’s office. If you’re nervous about the changes, ask what to do when you schedule your appointment or when you arrive. The receptionist will let you know about masking, social distancing and other potential requirements.
  2. Be ready for questions. Whether you’re returning to your usual healthcare provider or visiting a new one, be prepared to answer questions and let your doctor know if anything has changed since your last visit to the gynecologist. Be ready to share information about:
  • Current medications

  • Your sexual history

  • Your gender identity

  • Your mental and physical health concerns

  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse

  • Menstrual problems or bleeding between periods

  • Abnormal pap smears in the past

  • Cervical disease  

  • HPV vaccination status

  • History of positive HPV test results

Your doctor uses all this information to get the most accurate and appropriate tests done, which can help avoid overtesting and unnecessary procedures.  

  1. Freshen up for your visit, but don’t overdo it. “Many women have the instinct to overdo grooming for gynecological visits, but it’s completely unnecessary,” Loken said. “As long as you arrive with good hygiene, your doctor doesn’t care about the aesthetics.” Proper hygiene does not include douching, Loken said: “Never introduce cleaning solutions into your vaginal canal.” However, it’s best to avoid having intercourse 24 hours before your visit, as residual effects may alter your test results.
  2. Learn about screening tests. After you have shared your specific history, your gynecologist will perform your exam and collect sampling. The pelvic exam is done with a gentle speculum placement and a swab of your cervix. The lab will analyze the test your doctor has ordered. “In recent years the addition of HPV testing has been added to cervical cancer screening,” said Liza Kunz, M.D., OB-GYN, MFM, FACOG, U.S. disease area network lead at Roche Diagnostics.
  3. Here are a few of the tests your doctor may request:

  • A Pap test looks for abnormal cells on the cervix that can indicate early signs of cancer. 

  • Cotesting, refers to a combined Pap smear and HPV test.

  • HPV primary screening genotype screening starts with an HPV test, and then is followed by additional testing if needed. 

  • Colposcopy is a diagnostic test where your doctor examines the cervix through a special magnifying device called a colposcope. This exam takes place in your gynecologist’s office, and providers will take a sample or biopsy if they see abnormalities under the colposcope. Those biopsies are then sent to the lab for evaluation.

What to Know After Your OB-GYN Appointment

You’ve had your annual check-up. Now, learn about the follow-up steps.


Karla Loken, D.O., OB-GYN, FACOOG, is board certified in OB-GYN and is a U.S. disease area partner for Roche medical and scientific affairs (MSA).


Liza Kunz, M.D., OB-GYN, MFM, FACOG, is board certified in OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine and is a U.S. disease area network lead for Roche MSA.