Objectives: To assess the place of bimanual pelvic examination as a routine procedure in healthy women.
Methods: 2623 healthy, asymptomatic volunteers (mean age, 51 years; range, 25-92 years) underwent pelvic examination as part of an ovarian cancer screening program. The presence of a bulky or fibroid uterus and adnexal abnormality was noted. Pelvic ultrasonography was used to investigate adnexal abnormalities and was also performed in all women with an elevated serum CA-125 antigen level (> 35 U/mL). Laparoscopy or laparotomy was performed as clinically indicated.
Results: A bulky or fibroid uterus was detected in 12.9% of women. The prevalence of abnormal adnexal findings was 1.5%, with a positive predictive value for a subsequent diagnosis of benign adnexal abnormality of 22%. The specificity of vaginal examination for malignancy was 99.9%. No ovarian malignancies were identified at initial screening.
Conclusions: This "routine" procedure is undertaken in the belief that it serves a screening purpose. The detection of benign uterine abnormality is of no clear benefit as progression to malignancy is rare. Bimanual pelvic examination is of questionable value as a screening strategy in view of the low incidence of ovarian cancer in healthy women, and the relatively high prevalence (1.5%) of relatively unimportant adnexal abnormalities.