Guidelines that change frequently can leave you feeling bewildered and uncertain. Staying current with the guidelines is the best way to know when to schedule important women’s health screenings, like pap tests.
Most women are used to scheduling their annual pap tests. However, leading medical organizations no longer recommend yearly Pap screenings. Rely on the team at Patel & Patel MD, Inc., in South Charleston, West Virginia, to keep you connected with the latest health screening recommendations.
Read on to find out what’s changed and when to schedule your next Pap test.
What’s the deal with Pap smears?
Today, partly thanks to Pap tests, you’re less likely to develop and die from cervical cancer. Pap test is a quick screening that retrieves a sample of your cervical cells to examine under a microscope.
Pap smears can detect abnormal changes to your cervical cells that indicate cancer may develop in the future. Because cervical cancer is a progressive disease, detecting it early with a Pap test is critical. Like other cancers, cervical cancer is easier to treat when detected early.
Pap smear guidelines
The Pap test is still the gold standard for detecting cervical cancer. However, recommendations on how often to screen have changed. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has issued new Pap test guidelines:
Women between the ages of 21 and 65 should have a Pap smear every three years, beginning at 21. Women over 30 should consider Pap testing every five years if combined with human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical cancer.
A word about prevention: almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV, and a vaccine is available to protect against it. ACOG advises girls and women aged 9-26 to get vaccinated.
Women over 65 who have had adequate prior screening and are not at risk of cervical cancer should not have a Pap test.
Unless they have other risk factors, women who have had a total hysterectomy do not need to have a Pap test.
Factors that may necessitate more frequent testing
If you have any of the following risk factors, your doctor may advise you to have more frequent Pap smears, regardless of your age:
- You’ve had a Pap smear or had cervical cancer
- Displaying precancerous cells
- You are infected with HIV
- You have a compromised immune system
Discuss it with our team if you have questions about when to schedule your next Pap test.
Still see your gynecologist annually
While annual Pap smears are no longer necessary, you must continue visiting your gynecologist yearly. Your annual gyno visit allows you to discuss more than just your cervical cells.
Getting a Pap smear is only a small part of your annual gynecologic exam. A pelvic exam, a breast exam to screen for any new lumps or changes in the breast that could indicate breast cancer, sexually transmitted disease screening, and a full medical consultation are also included.
This is an opportunity to speak with your gynecologist about any birth control, period, or fertility concerns you may have, as well as any gynecological or sexual symptoms that seem unusual.
Don’t put off going to the doctor. Don’t be afraid to ask if you’re unsure how frequently you should see your doctor or have a Pap smear. You are not alone in being unsure about how frequently you should see your gynecologist.
For this and all of your obstetric and gynecological needs, call our office to schedule a visit with a Patel & Patel MD, Inc, provider today.