How Often Should You Get a Pap Smear?
A Pap smear is a common procedure that is designed to detect abnormal growth within the cervix, which can be early indicators of an underlying disease, such as cervical cancer. Typically, a Pap smear is a normal part of your annual well-woman exam. At Lawrence Family Practice Center, we’re committed to helping our patients near Lawrence, KS better understand how to care for themselves and make the best choices for their health. In this blog, we’ll discuss the current Pap smear guidelines, how often you should get a Pap smear, and why they’re so important.
What is a Pap smear?
A Pap smear is a screening test that looks for cervical cancer. Specifically, the goal of the test is to detect the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells. When a healthcare provider performs a Pap smear, they use a small brush to collect samples from the cervix (the top of the vagina and opening of the uterus). Then, the cells are examined to detect signs of cancer. Although the procedure may cause some slight discomfort, a Pap smear should not hurt and only takes a few minutes to complete.
Pap smear results are usually returned from the lab within 1 – 3 weeks and typically fall into one of three categories:
Normal Pap smear – No abnormal cells were detected.
Abnormal Pap smear – Although this does mean there were abnormal cells detected in the test, an abnormal result does not mean you have cancer. However, your doctor may recommend doing additional testing, such as an HPV (Human Papillomavirus) test, colposcopy, or another Pap smear.
Inconclusive Pap smear – This result means your sample was poor, or an inadequate number of cells were collected to make a conclusive determination. You will most likely need to return for another Pap smear.
Why is a Pap smear important?
Pap smears don’t test for all diseases, but they are the gold standard in detecting signs of and lowering the risk of developing cervical cancer. Early detection of abnormal cells could give you a greater chance of curing cervical cancer. Additionally, the exam can detect changes in your cervical cells and alert your doctor that cancer may develop in the future. In short, a Pap smear could save your life.
When and where should I go for a Pap smear?
The most current guidelines recommend that all women get their first Pap smear at 21, regardless of their sexual history or orientation. We perform routine Pap smears at our Lawrence, KS office, typically during a yearly well-woman exam.
Although many people were used to having a pelvic exam and Pap smear performed annually, new research has shown that cells take a long time to go from healthy and normal to cancerous. So, while it’s still essential to have a pelvic exam performed once per year to look for other problems, like ovarian or uterine cancer and sexually transmitted diseases, it’s not necessary to have a Pap smear every year.
Instead, most women between 21 and 29 should have a Pap smear every three years, while most women between 30 and 65 should have a Pap smear every five years. Certain risk factors may dictate more frequent testing, including if:
You have a history of cervical cancer or a Pap smear showing precancerous cells
You have HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
You have a history of HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
You have a weakened immune system
Women older than 65 or who have had a hysterectomy for benign reasons are no longer required to have a Pap smear. However, if your hysterectomy was for a precancerous or cancerous condition of the cervix, your doctor may recommend you continue routine Pap testing.
Schedule an appointment at Lawrence Family Practice Center
They may be slightly uncomfortable, but routine Pap smears remain an essential screening tool for cervical cancer. As a result, it’s vital to have regular tests to detect any changes early and begin any necessary treatment as soon as possible.
At Lawrence Family Practice Center, our caring team of health care providers is committed to helping our patients better understand how to care for themselves and live happy, healthy lives. If you’re due for a Pap smear or would like to learn more about lowering your risk of developing cervical cancer, contact us today to schedule an appointment at our Lawrence, KS location.