It’s important to receive testing for a range of medical issues, especially if you have a family history of specific medical conditions. For example, 69% of women have received a pap test within the past three years.
Pap smears are a diagnostic procedure that tests for cervical cancer and reproductive issues.
How often should you get a pap smear? Keep reading to find out!
In this guide, we’ll review the procedure, how often you’ll need it, and the connection between cervical cancer and HPV.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the pap smear procedure.
What is a Pap Smear?
First, it’s important to note a pap smear isn’t the same as a pelvic exam. Rather, a pelvic exam is a checkup that involves all of your reproductive parts. That includes both internal and external parts.
Pelvic exams are used to look for specific illnesses. This type of exam will check to determine the health of your female organs.
A pap smear, on the other hand, is a screening test for cervical cancer. During this procedure, a medical professional will collect cells outside of the cervix. Then, the cells are examined to check for cervical cancer.
A pap smear is often done as part of a pelvic exam.
In order to perform a pap smear, a medical professional uses a medical instrument called a speculum. The metal pieces look like a duck’s bill.
The speculum is inserted into the vagina, making it easier for the doctor to see the cervix.
For most women, the procedure is more uncomfortable than it is painful.
However, feeling nervous can cause your muscles to tighten up. This, as a result, can make the procedure less comfortable. If you’re apprehensive about the speculum or procedure, make sure to discuss your discomfort before your pelvic exam.
Once your doctor has a view of your cervix, they’ll use a small brush to swab the outside of the cervix. This allows them to collect the necessary cells for testing. This can feel like a gentle scratch or slight tickle.
The process will only take a few minutes. Again, this procedure is often more uncomfortable than it is painful.
Then, your doctor will put your cell sample into a solution. Once it’s sent to a lab, a pathologist will study it under a microscope. A doctor will look for changes to your cells, which could indicate cervical cancer.
It usually takes a few days before your doctor will receive the results from the pathologist.
How Often Do I Need a Pap Smear?
93% of American women report getting at least one pap smear in their lifetime. 16% of women report getting screened ever three years. Meanwhile, 11% are not screened regularly.
The cervical cancer screening guidelines recently changed.
According to the National Cancer Institute, here are the guidelines for how often you’ll need a pap smear. Wondering how often should you get a pap smear?
First, women ages 21 to 29 should receive a pap test every three years. By then, you should have attended your first gynecologist appointment.
Next, women ages 30 to 65 should:
- Receive a pap test along with high-risk HPV testing every five years
- Just high-risk HPV testing every five years
- Or just a pap test every three years
Women with certain risk factors might need more frequent screening. They might also need to continue to receive screening after the age of 65. These risk factors include:
- The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Exposure to diethylstilbestrol before birth
- Treatment for a precancerous cervical lesion or cervical cancer
However, screening for cervical cancer isn’t recommended for:
- Patients younger than 21 years of age
- Women older than 65 years who had adequate prior screening and received normal results
- Patients who had a total hysterectomy and no history of high-grade cervical lesions or cervical cancer
You can speak with your doctor to determine whether or not you’ll require screening after you turn 65.
New research prompted doctors to change these guidelines. According to recent studies, it takes a long time for cells to go from normal to really bad. As a result, it’s no longer necessary for women to receive testing that often.
However, it’s still possible for you to have atypical cells within three years, so you’ll still need continuous testing.
Cervical Cancer & HPV
According to research, almost every case of cervical cancer is caused by an HPV infection. There are over 150 strains of HPV. However, researchers identified two types of HPV that cause the majority of cervical cancer cases.
Now, a vaccine is available for preteens and teens to help prevent the more dangerous strains of HPV.
Many people are exposed to HPV within their lifetimes. However, the human system is able to get rid of the virus within a few years. For some people, the virus remains, damaging cells.
Your risk for cervical cancer increases as you get older.
As a result, testing occurs while women are at the prime age group for HPV exposure. A pap smear can protect your body from cervical cancer. Early detection will help you receive treatment as soon as possible.
If you’re still asking how often should you get a pap smear, make sure to speak with your doctor. Then, you can receive peace of mind before your next appointment.
Do Menopausal Patients Still Need Pap Smears?
You should continue to get pap smear testing even if you’re menopausal or postmenopausal.
You can stop receiving pap smear testing if you:
- Have had a total hysterectomy for a noncancerous condition
- Don’t have a previous history of precancerous pap tests
- Are over the age of 65 and have had at least three normal pap tests in a row
If you have a high risk of cancer, you may need a pap smear more often.
How Often Should You Get a Pap Smear: Understanding Your Medical Needs
How often should you get a pap smear? If you’re still unsure about your personal needs, speak with your doctor. They can determine how often you need testing based on your medical history.
Ready to schedule a check-up? Contact us today to make an appointment.