How Often Do I Need a Pap Smear?

This is a clinical screening procedure that tests whether a woman has cervical cancer. During the procedure, your specialist will collect cells from your cervix. This is the lower, narrow opening to your uterus, located at the upper side of the vagina. The doctor then examines the cells in a lab for signs of any abnormal changes. Early detection of cervical cancer with a Pap smear increases your chances of successful treatment.


Why Have a Pap Smear?


The main aim of a Pap test is to screen for cervical cancer in women. In most cases, the test is usually in conjunction with a pelvic test. Also, it is common to combine a Pap smear with human papillomavirus (HPV) test for women over the age of 30. 


HPV is a common type of sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer. For this reason, some medical practitioners may perform an HPV test instead of a Pap smear in some instances. Experts recommend beginning the test as soon as you turn 21.


How Often Should You Get a Pap Smear?


According to experts, it is advisable for women between 21 and 35 years old to go for a Pap test once every three years. If you are 30 years or older and you get the test combined with an HPV exam, you should get the Pap test every five years. Doctors might even recommend the HPV test instead of a Pap smear.


Additionally, certain risk factors may lead the doctor to recommend more frequent Pap tests, notwithstanding your age. Some of them include:


  • Pre-birth exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES)

  • Declining immune system due to chemotherapy, chronic use of corticosteroid, or organ transplant

  • Smoking history

  • HIV infection


You and your doctor should consider your health history and decide on the best option for your specific needs. This should include the frequency of getting a Pap smear.


What Do Pap Test Results Show?


The exam results for a Pap test show one of the following:


Normal Pap Smear


This shows that abnormal cells were absent. Usually, if you receive a negative or normal pat test result, you may be good to go for another three years before taking another one.


Abnormal Pap Smear


A negative Pap smear result does not necessarily mean you have cancer. It only means the test has detected some abnormal cells. So, your doctor will do additional tests such as a colposcopy or HPV test. They might also harvest a piece of tissue for further testing (biopsy). This helps them examine your cervix better. Also, you may need to return for further screening after a year.


Inconclusive Pap Smear


This means the laboratory did not see enough cells to conclude on the matter, or the sample taken was poor. In this case, you are likely to get another Pap smear.


For more information on Pap smears, contact Partners in Obstetrics & Women’s Health at our office in New Lenox, Illinois. You can call (815) 240-0554 to book an appointment today.

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