When Should You Get a Pap Smear?
A raleigh Pap smear is a common procedure which is used to screen women for cervical cancer. In the past, it was recommended for women to receive a Pap smear annually. Fortunately, Pap smear screenings have improved and it is known that cervical cancer takes years to develop. The Pap smear procedure involves gently scraping off cells from the cervix and examining them for abnormalities. This procedure is typically completed at the doctor’s office, often by a gynecologist or nurse practitioner. While the procedure may be slightly uncomfortable, it should not cause serious pain or long-term bleeding.
It is recommended for women to start having a Pap smear screening when they are 21 years old. For women who are between 21-29 years old and have normal Pap smears, they only need to be repeated every three years. Beginning at 30 years old and over, women should begin getting tested for the human papillomavirus (HPV) in addition to their routine Pap smear.
HPV is a virus which can cause warts and increase the risk for a patient having cervical cancer. HPV types 16 and 18 are the known causes of cervical cancer. Patients who have HPV, are known to be at an increased risk for developing cervical cancer. Women who are younger than 30 are not tested for HPV as 80 percent of sexually active women will contract the virus. For most women, once they are in their 30s, the clear it. Once the virus is confirmed as not being present, the patient can extend the time between Pap smears to about every five years. Although the annual gynecological exam should still be completed. If precancerous cells are detected on the cervix, or if the patient tests positive for HPV, more frequent testing will be required.
Some women may be at an increased risk for cancer or infection. Completing Pap smear tests more frequently may be necessary if the patient is HIV-positive or has a weakened immune system. Weakened immune systems are commonly associated with chemotherapy or having an organ transplant. It is strongly recommend for both boys and girls be vaccinated against HPV at age 12. This aids in the prevention of cervical cancer.
In most cases, Pap smears will continue for the woman throughout her life. These should occur until the patient turns 65, unless she has undergone a hysterectomy. If the patient has had a hysterectomy, Pap smears are no longer required, unless testing for cervical or endometrial cancer. If a patient has had two normal Pap smears in the past 10 years, and has not had any seriously precancerous cells in the last 20 years, screenings can be stopped altogether after 65.
These standards are common practice and recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It is important to talk to your doctor to ensure you are completing all the recommended tests, but not undergoing any tests which are not required. It is important for patients to be educated and feel comfortable asking questions. Patients should be clear on which tests are being performed, the frequency of these test, and why they are being performed.