Having regular Pap smears can go a long way toward helping to protect you from cervical cancer. A Pap smear looks for cancer and can find abnormalities in cervical cells early, before they become cancerous.
Because guidelines for how often to have cervical cancer screening have changed over time, you may be wondering when you should have your Pap smear.
At Associates in Women’s Health in Cincinnati, our team of care providers would like to share the latest information about how often you should have a Pap smear. Read on to find out the guidelines we follow here in our practice.
About Pap smears
A Pap smear is a test that checks for changes in the cells in your cervix. To perform a Pap smear, your provider inserts a medical instrument called a speculum into your cervix and gently scrapes the cervical tissue to collect a sample of cells.
After collecting a sample of cervical cells, your provider sends them to a laboratory for analysis. Most Pap smears are normal. However, if any abnormalities are discovered, your provider contacts you to discuss next steps. These may include further testing right away or in the future, depending on specific findings.
Pap smears may be performed alone or along with testing for the human papillomavirus (HPV), a group of viruses linked to cervical cancer and cancer of the vagina, vulva, penis, anis, mouth, and throat.
If cellular changes are caught early, cervical cancer is highly preventable. Typically, it takes three to seven years for changes in cervical cells to become cancerous, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
When to be tested
Pap smears are typically performed during your yearly well-woman exam. However, most women don’t need a Pap smear during every yearly checkup.
Our practice follows these guidelines from the ACOG for scheduling Pap smears:
Women in this age group should have a Pap smear alone every three years. HPV testing is generally not recommended during these years.
In this age group, we recommend co-testing, which includes a Pap smear and an HPV test every five years. Alternately, you can have a Pap smear every three years.
After age 65
You may stop having Pap smears after age 65 if you have no history of cervical cancer or have had no moderate-to-severe abnormalities in your cervical cells recently or if you’ve had a series of negative Pap smears and HPV tests.
At any age
Your provider may recommend a different Pap smear schedule if you have one or more of the following:
- A history of cervical cancer
- A weakened immune system because of certain health conditions or medications
- Certain abnormal findings in previous cervical cancer testing
- Exposure to the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) before birth
- HIV infection
- Symptoms such as unexplained vaginal bleeding, unexplained pain, or unusual vaginal discharge.
Schedule your Pap smear today
If you’re due for a Pap smear, HPV screening, or a yearly well-woman checkup, don’t wait any longer to make an appointment with the caring providers at Associates in Women’s Health. Schedule a visit by calling our office at 513-794-1500 or requesting an appointment today.