Pap Smear Test: How Often Do You Need to Have This Done
In 2022, it’s estimated that 14,100 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States. Most women are diagnosed with cervical cancer between 35 and 44, with the average age of diagnosis at 50.
However, cervical cancer rarely occurs in women who get a regular pap smear test as they are able to detect abnormal cells before it becomes a bigger problem.
If you haven’t had a pap test in a while, it’s time to start paying attention. It’s important to understand how pap smear tests work and how frequently you should get them.
Keep reading this guide to learn about pap tests so you can catch any health problems early on!
Overview of a Pap Smear Test
The Papanicolaou test or Pap test is a procedure that collects cells from your cervix. Pap smear tests detect precancerous and cancerous changes in your cervix.
Pap smear tests detect not only cervical cancer but also other abnormalities like inflammation. Often, your doctor will do additional testing for sexually transmitted diseases during your exam.
Pap Smear Test and Pelvic Exams
It’s also important to realize that Pap tests are not the same thing as pelvic exams, and many women get these confused.
During a pelvic exam, your doctor will assess your reproductive organs for any abnormalities. They’ll typically press on your abdomen and pelvis area while inserting a gloved hand into your vagina so they can determine the size and shape of your ovaries and uterus.
Though a pelvic exam is often done at the same time as a pap smear, that’s not always the case. You’ll need to talk to your doctor about how you should be scheduling this exam.
Pap Smear Testing and HPV Testing
Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the most common cause of cervical cancer. There are over 100 types of HPV; certain types of HPV infections that appear as genital warts near your cervix, vagina, or anus will most likely lead to cervical cancer.
You get HPV through cuts or small tears in your skin, and genital HPV infections often occur from unprotected sexual intercourse.
For this reason, pap smear tests are usually done at the same time as an HPV test, which is often referred to as co-testing.
What Can You Expect During a Pap Smear?
During a pap test, your doctor will use a speculum to help them see into your vagina. Then, they’ll use a special swab to collect cells from outside the cervix to send to a laboratory and be examined under a microscope.
The pap smear test takes a few minutes, and although it may feel uncomfortable, you shouldn’t experience any pain. Some women experience light bleeding and mild cramping after a pap smear, but you shouldn’t experience this for longer than 24 hours.
How Should You Prepare for a Pap Smear Test?
You’ll need to prepare for your pap smear test to ensure you have the most accurate results possible.
First, it’s best to schedule your pap test at least five days after your period. Most healthcare providers avoid performing pap tests during your menstrual period because that can alter the results. You’ll need to check with your doctor about what they recommend.
You’ll also want to avoid sexual intercourse, vaginal creams, lubricants, or douches at least two days prior to your pap smear test.
Who Should Get Pap Smear Tests?
Pap smear tests are a vital part of your healthcare routine, and all women between the ages of 21 and 65 should get regular pap test screenings.
How Often Should You Get a Pap Smear Test?
The frequency of pap smears depends on your age, medical history, and what types of results you’ve had from previous pap smear tests.
Based on your age, you’ll need to follow a schedule that includes:
- No pap testing before the age of 21
- A pap test every three years between 21 and 29
- A pap test and HPV test every five years if you’re between 30 and 65
- No pap testing after 65 if you’re not at high risk
Typically, you’ll need more frequent pap smear testing if you have certain health conditions like HIV or are immunocompromised from other conditions or medical treatments.
You’ll also need to have pap smears more often if you have a history of cervical cancer, have been treated for HPV, or have had abnormal pap smear results in the past.
When Can You Stop Getting Pap Smear Tests?
If you’re older than 65 and have had three normal pap tests or two normal co-testing results within the last ten years, your doctor may advise you that you don’t need further pap testing.
You may also not need regular pap tests if you don’t have a cervix due to a hysterectomy and have no history of abnormal pap test results or of cervical cancer.
Make sure you find a doctor who specializes in gynecology and can give you expert advice on your individual health needs before stopping your routine pap smear tests and HPV screenings.
Talk to Your Doctor About a Pap Smear Test Today
Now that you know more about the importance of getting a routine pap smear test, you’ll be able to better care for your health.
If you’re looking for a doctor to manage your gynecological care, then it’s time to turn to the professionals at Women’s Health of Augusta. We’ve been caring for women for more than 40 years and can guide you through the treatment you need.
We offer gynecological and obstetric care for women of all ages. We can help you with menstrual and hormonal concerns, PMS, contraceptive needs, breast disorders, and weight management.
Make sure you contact us today to schedule the gynecological tests you need!