During a routine pelvic exam, a medical professional uses a speculum to see the cervix and vaginal walls, according to Women to Women. If a pap smear is necessary, the doctor keeps the speculum inserted and opened in the vaginal canal and uses a cytobrush and plastic spatula to take cell samples from the ectocervix and endocervix. The doctor also may take a sample from the vaginal walls using a cotton swab to check for infections.
A routine pelvic exam also includes a bimanual exam, notes WebMD. During this part, the doctor inserts two of her gloved fingers inside of the vaginal canal and places her other hand on the lower stomach to check for changes in the ovaries and uterus. The entire pelvic exam should take approximately 10 minutes to complete.
A woman scheduling a pelvic exam should avoid choosing a day when she expects to menstruate, according to WebMD. For accurate test results, she should not have sex, use a tampon, douche, or use any medication or cream inside of her vagina 48 hours before her exam.
Some medical practices recommend that their patients have pelvic exams and pap smears every year, notes Women to Women. However, current guidelines indicate that a pap smear every three years between the ages of 21 to 65 is sufficient, according to WebMD.