A systematic review of the use, quality and effects of pelvic examination in primary care for the detection of gynaecological cancer

P Williams* (Corresponding Author), C M Bond, C Burton, P Murchie

*Corresponding author for this work

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2 Citations (Scopus)


AIM: This three part systematic review gathered all the current evidence on the use, quality and effects of pelvic examination (abdominal palpation, bimanual vaginal examination ± visualisation of the cervix) in primary care in diagnosing gynaecological cancer. Research questions • Do primary care practitioners perform pelvic examination during the assessment of symptoms, which are potentially indicative of gynaecological cancer? (RQ1) • What is the quality of pelvic examination performed in primary care, in terms of technical competence and interpretation of findings? (RQ2) • Is pelvic examination associated with the referral of patients with gynaecological cancer, and if so, in what way? (RQ3) Methods: PRISMA guidelines were followed. MEDLINE, EMBASE and Cochrane databases were searched using a combination of four terms, their MeSH terms and synonyms: pelvic examination; primary care; competency and gynaecological cancer. Inclusion and exclusion criteria were defined. Citation lists of all identified papers were searched. Two authors (PW and PM or CMB or CB) independently screened titles, abstracts and the full texts of publications. Data extraction was performed by PW and duplicated in all papers by a second reviewer (PM, CMB or CB). Paper quality was assessed using CASP methodology.

RESULTS: Nine hundred fifty four references were identified: 21 met the inclusion criteria: 5 RQ1; 6 RQ2; 10 RQ3. Examination rates prior to referral were generally low: one paper identified pre-referral PE in 52% of the patients; remaining papers demonstrated examination in less than half of the patients with suspicious symptoms. No papers explored GPs' competence at performing PE directly; but one paper identified 39% of 'clinically suspicious' cervices referred for colposcopy as having no abnormality. Pre-referral PE was associated with reduced diagnostic delay and early stage diagnosis.

CONCLUSIONS: Pre-referral pelvic examination in symptomatic women appears to be under-performed, despite urgent suspected cancer referral guideline recommendation to do so (Healthcare Improvement Scotland 2014 ; National Institute for Health and Care Excellence 2015 ). While no evidence was found to confirm GPs' competence for performing PE, there was an association with shorter diagnostic delay and better outcomes in those women where it was performed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)737
Number of pages1
JournalJournal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Issue number5
Early online date26 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Journal Article


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