Do I need an annual Pap Smear?

How often do I need a pap smear? The answer to that question has changed over the past few years as medical experts have determined that the need for an annual gynecological exam varies depending on the woman. Pap smears are recommended for most women between 21 – 65 years old. Certain factors including sexual activity, family history of cervical cancer, or abnormal tests may result in your OBGYN recommending pap smears each year, but the belief that every woman needs a yearly pap smear has become a thing of the past.

Why do I need a pap smear?

While it may be momentarily uncomfortable, a pap test can ultimately save your life. The tests, which are generally quick and painless, can help detect early signs of cervical cancer. Pap smears can find abnormal cervical cells before they develop into cancerous cells. The success rate of cervical cancer treatment is very high when the cancer is caught early. Doctors recommend the test as one of the easiest ways to prevent cervical cancer.

How often do I need a pap smear?

Two main factors come into play when determining how often you should get a pap smear: age and health history. You should talk to your doctor about what is best for you, but generally, women should have their first pap smear at age 21, even if she is not sexually active and received the HPV vaccine.

  • Women ages 21 -29 should receive a pap smear every three years unless otherwise determined by their doctor
  • Women ages 30 – 64 can now wait five years in between screenings. At this age, pap smears should be accompanied by an HPV test to help detect cervical cancer. Women who have tested for high risk strains of HPV or had abnormal test results should be screened more frequently.
  • Women age 65 or older should talk to their doctor about a good time to stop having pap smears as long as previous tests for cervical cancer have been negative.

Some women may need more frequent pap smears that generally recommended. If you have a weakened immune system because of chemotherapy, an organ transplant or other severe illness, you may be a good candidate for a yearly screening. If you are HIV-positive, you are living with a higher risk of cervical cancer, so more frequent pap smears may be in order.

What does an “abnormal pap smear” mean?

Anytime a doctor uses the word “abnormal” it can be scary, but abnormal pap smear results do not mean you have cancer. The test can simply indicate a problem with the cervix, and your doctor may choose to not act immediately. He could request another pap smear in six months or a year depending on other health factors. Other tests can also be conducted to help your doctor decide if there’s a need for immediate action.

If you have abnormal cells, ask your doctor to explain what that means. It’s true that some abnormal cells can become cancerous, but treating those irregular cells that don’t go away on their own can prevent cancer in a majority of cases.

Discuss your options with your doctor. Based on your age and health, you can work together to determine how often you should get a pap smear and what treatment options are available if an abnormal test pops up.

Is it time for one?

If it’s time to schedule your pap smear give our office a call today. We are currently accepting new patients.