A Pap smear is an effective way to screen women for cervical cancer. Women should start Pap screening at the age of 21. Previously, the recommendation was to schedule a Pap smear annually. Today, Pap smears have improved, and so has our understanding of how long it takes for cervical cancer to develop. 

If you have questions about how often to schedule a Pap smear, or Pap smears in general, an OB/GYN is an excellent place to start. Here at Patel & Patel, board-certified OB/GYN Kiran Patel, MD, and our women’s health team help women stay healthy at all phases of life. 

Pap smears are a life-saving screening tool that detects cervical cancer at the earliest stages and can detect abnormal cervical cells before they have a chance to develop into cancer. 

Here’s what you should know about when to schedule your next Pap smear.

Pap test: an important screening tool

Thanks in part to the increased use of Pap smears, rates of death from cervical cancer have declined significantly. In 2021, it’s estimated that cervical cancer will claim the lives of 4,290 women.  

A Pap smear involves collecting cells from your cervix. Once collected, the cells are sent to a lab to check for any abnormalities. Roughly 95% of Pap smears are normal. If you receive an abnormal result, it doesn’t mean that you have cervical cancer. Your provider will go over your results with you. 

Understanding your test results

Normal results mean that your cervical cells look the way they should. This is also referred to as a negative Pap test result, which means it is not showing any lesion or malignancy. 

An abnormal Pap test, or positive test result may be a sign of infection, inflammation, or a harmless growth. Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is responsible for most positive Pap test results. 

It is rare to find cancerous cervical cells in women who have been screening regularly. Changes to cervical cells are graded. Low-grade changes are usually due to an HPV infection. High-grade changes are abnormal changes that could become cancer. Your health care provider will recommend follow-up steps based on your test results.

How often to schedule a pap test

How often you need to schedule a Pap smear depends on your individual medical history, age and Pap test results. 

Ages 21-29

It’s recommended that women ages 21-29 who receive a normal Pap result schedule a Pap test every three years.

Ages 30-65

Women ages 30 to 65 should have an HPV test with their Pap test. HPV is the primary cause of cervical cancer. Women under the age of 30 needn’t take an HPV test. That’s because most sexually active women under 30 will have HPV. The body typically clears the virus on its own. 

Hysterectomy with cervix removal

Pap smears should continue until the age of 65, unless you have a hysterectomy that includes removal of the cervix. Screening is not necessary in women who have had a hysterectomy with cervix removal and do not have a history of high-grade precancerous growths or cervical cancer. 

The team at Patel & Patel follow the standards as recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It’s important to have recommended health screenings, as well as minimize unnecessary testing. 

Scheduling regular Pap smears can save your life. We encourage patients to ask us questions so that you understand what screenings to have done and how often to schedule them.  

If you have questions about Pap tests and for all other OB/GYN services, we’re here to help. You’re in compassionate, expert hands when you choose Patel & Patel as your health care provider. To schedule a visit and to discuss our services call our team at our South Charleston, West Virginia office or send your request online today

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