Women: Do you know when you need a Pap smear?


Women: Do you know when you need a Pap smear?

The screening guidelines for a test that detects a common type of women’s cancer have changed in recent years. Are you up to speed?  

“Pap smears are a test for cervical cancer,” says Melissa Counihan, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist at Piedmont.

The test does not screen for uterine or ovarian cancer.

The current guidelines recommend women with normal Pap smear results undergo a Pap test:

  • Every three years if you’re between 21 and 29 and your previous tests results have been normal.

  • Every five years if you’re between 30 and 65.

Women between 30 and 65 should also be tested for human papillomavirus (HPV) every five years. HPV is a virus that can cause cervical cell changes that potentially lead to cervical cancer.

Why women can go longer between Pap tests

“Changes that lead up to cervical cancer are very slow,” explains Dr. Counihan.

By testing every five years, physicians can still catch severe cervix dysplasia (abnormal changes) and cancer in that amount of time and provide treatment.

Some women may require more frequent testing.

“Based on each individual patient’s medical history and gynecologic history, there are a lot of reasons they may need to be tested more frequently,” she says. “It’s important to talk to your doctor about your history and they may suggest more frequent Pap smears.”

Don’t skip your annual gynecologic visit

Even though you likely don’t need a yearly Pap smear, that doesn’t mean you can skip a trip to your gynecologist. Women still need to see their gynecologist each year for a breast and pelvic exam.

“A pelvic exam is very important,” says Dr. Counihan. “We’re able to look at the cervix and see if we see any changes that might be concerning. We also are able to evaluate the uterus and the ovaries. It’s a very important exam to have every year even if you’re not having a Pap smear.”

Learn more about cancer prevention and screenings.

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