Q: Do I need a yearly Pap smear?
Yearly pap tests are not recommended for most women because cervical cancer usually takes years to develop and it is extremely unlikely for a woman to develop cervical cancer if she is screened every three to five years. Additionally, there are risks involved in screening too frequently because it can lead to unnecessary procedures that involve more risk.
Below are the most up-to-date guidelines:
- For women age 21 to 29, the American Cancer Society recommends a Pap test every three years to screen for cervical cancer.
- Women age 30 to 65 should get a Pap test with HPV (human papillomavirus) co-testing every five years.
- Women who have had an abnormal Pap result in the past may need more frequent tests.
HPV plays a role in causing most cases of cervical cancer. HPV is extremely common and is often cleared naturally by an individual’s healthy immune system. However, in some women, the virus survives for years and can lead to cervical cancer. While experts agree that it’s not helpful to test most women under 30 for HPV, because it often resolves on its own, women over 30 should have a Pap smear and an HPV test to screen for cell changes that could be early signs of cancer.
In addition to getting regular Pap smears and HPV testing, women can help prevent cervical cancer by getting the HPV vaccine, which is approved for individuals age 11 to 45.
Scheduling an annual appointment with a midwife is a good way to get screenings at the right times and to address other important health topics such as breast health, birth control, and sexually transmitted diseases screenings.
—Allison Lawrence, CNM at Vancouver Clinic
Allison Lawrence holds a master of science in nursing with a special focus in midwifery and women’s health from Yale University.