By Idries Abdur-Rahman, M.D., FACOG
We get it, there are about 1,267,548 things more enjoyable than a PAP Smear. Why do you think we Gynecologists never get Christmas cards? That’s probably why one of the most frequent questions patients ask us is how often they need to get a PAP smear and more importantly when they can stop getting them? Now you know the Twin Docs have your back and we are going to break it down for you. So, here you go:
What the Heck is a PAP Smear?
A PAP Smear is a quick test that is designed to look for Cervical Dysplasia or Cervical Cancer. Cervical dysplasia is abnormal, possibly pre-cancerous cells on the cervix. Cervical cancer is cancerous cells on the cervix. Your cervix is the bottom part of your uterus and during a PAP Smear, your doctor will place a speculum into your vagina to allow her or him to visualize your it. Your doctor will then scrape your cervix with a brush to remove some cells which are then sent to another doctor called a Pathologist, who will evaluate the cells under a microscope to look for any abnormalities.
Why Do I Need a PAP Smear?
A PAP Smear is important because it checks for pre-cancerous or cancerous cells of the cervix. PAP Smears are very good at detecting pre-cancerous cells of the cervix and if these abnormal cells are caught early, there are a lot of relatively non-invasive treatments that can prevent you from developing cervical cancer.
How Often Should I Get My PAP Smear?
How often you should be getting a PAP smear depends upon your age and your medical history. ACOG (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) recommends that you should get your first PAP at 21 years old. After that, you get a PAP smears every 3 years until you are 30 years old. From 30 onward, you should have a PAP smear every 5 years as long as you have HPV testing done at the same time. HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is the virus that can cause cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer. If you have an abnormal PAP smear, you will need to get future PAP smear more often (usually every 6-12 months).
When Can I Stop Getting My PAP Smears?
ACOG also recommends that women stop having PAP smears once they reach 65 years old IF all of their PAP smears in the past have been normal. If you have had abnormal PAP smears in the past or have been found to have the HPV virus, your doctor might continue to perform PAP smears past the age of 65.
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