A pap smear is used to screen women for cervical cancer. Years ago, women had a Pap smear at each annual visit, but today Pap smears have improved and we know cervical cancer takes many years to develop.
How often do I need a pap smear?
Women should start Pap smear screenings at age 21. Between the ages of 21-29, women whose Pap smears are normal only need it repeated every three years. Women ages 30 and over should have testing for the human papillomavirus (HPV) with their Pap smear.
What causes cervical cancer?
HPV is the cause of cervical cancer. Women under age 30 are not tested for the virus because 80 percent of sexually active women will have this virus. Most women clear it once they are in their 30s. Once we confirm that the virus is not present, that patient can extend the duration between her Pap smears even further, to every five years (though she should still have an annual gynecological exam). In the event that we do detect precancerous cells on a woman’s cervix, or if she tests positive for HPV, she will need more frequent testing.
What can I do to prevent cervical cancer?
We strongly recommend that both girls and boys be vaccinated against HPV at age 12. We can make cervical cancer much less common in just one generation!
Will I need to get a pap smear for the rest of my life?
Pap smears typically continue throughout a woman’s life, until she reaches the age of 65, unless she has had a hysterectomy. If so, she no longer needs Pap smears (unless it is done to test for cervical or endometrial cancer). At that point, if a patient has had two normal Pap smears in the past 10 years and she has not had any precancerous cells in the past 20 years, she can stop screening altogether.
Sam Badran, MD, FACOG follows these standards, as recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Pleasant Valley Hospital Women’s Services ensures that our patients are undergoing all of the tests they should have, but we also want to make sure patients are not undergoing tests that aren’t necessary. We educate our patients and encourage them to ask us questions, so that they are clear on what tests they should have done, at what age, and why.
This piece submitted by Pleasant Valley Hospital.
Dr. Sam Badran, MD, FACOG, is a surgical gynecologist with Pleasant Valley Hospital