How Often Do I Need a Pap Smear?

You probably know that cervical cancer screening is all-important for women. 

One well-known method is the Pap test, a procedure whose name comes from the physician who developed it in the 1920s, Dr. George Papanikolaou. It wasn’t used widely for a few decades, but the Pap test eventually became the gold standard for early detection of cervical cancer. 

A newer test to detect the human papilloma virus, or HPV, has now been developed that, when performed alone or given in combination with a Pap test, offers even more protection. 

HPV is a common sexually transmitted virus that affects about 80% of people who are sexually active, and there’s now an HPV vaccine that should be given to boys and girls at about age 11 or 12. 

Dr. Peter Khamvongsa offers these critical screenings plus a multitude of important women’s health services, from well woman exams and obstetrics care to minimally invasive procedures and incontinence treatment. He and his staff take wonderful care of you by designing your care around your unique needs. 

Cervical cancer testing is a pivotal health screening for women

Before the development of the Pap smear, cervical cancer was the deadliest cancer for American women. 

In the last several decades, however, cases of cervical cancer and mortality have plummeted for one reason: the widespread use of the Pap smear, a simple, quick, and painless exam your gynecologist can perform during your office visit. Now that we have the HPV test — also a fast and comfortable procedure — you’re even better protected. 

Both tests allow your doctor to identify abnormal cervical cells very early, and finding a precancer means a much better prognosis. 

What are Pap tests and HPV tests like?

Getting your Pap test or HPV test is easy. Each can be done separately, but there’s also a Pap/HPV combination test available. When you visit us for your wellness exam, if you’re due for a cervical cancer screening, Dr. Khamvongsa performs it in just a few minutes. 

You recline on the examining table with your feet in stirrups, and Dr. Khamvongsa gently inserts a speculum into your vagina. This device opens your vagina and exposes your cervix so the doctor can gather a sample of cervical cells. 

Dr. Khamvongsa then inserts a long, slender spatula or brush that allows him to collect your sample. He puts the sample on a slide or in a liquid preservative and sends it to the lab for analysis. 

If any abnormal cells are found, Dr. Khamvongsa usually performs an advanced colposcopy, which is a test where he closely examines your cervical tissue for abnormalities. 

How often should I get Pap tests or HPV tests?

You'd think that the answer to this question would be fairly straightforward, but there have been some changes in medical guidelines regarding how frequently you should receive a Pap test over the years.

It used to be recommended that women receive a Pap smear annually, but because we’ve found that cervical cancer develops over quite a few years, and we have more sophisticated testing now, the American Cancer Society published new guidelines in 2020 that differed from the old ones in a couple of important ways. 

First, the recommended age for a woman’s first Pap test was raised a bit, and the introduction of the HPV test has ended up impacting both how often you need to get a Pap test or if you need one at all.  

Now the recommendation is that just an HPV test is recommended for women with cervixes (those who have not had hysterectomies) every five years, from age 25 through 65. The advent of the HPV test means that, in this case, the Pap test isn’t necessary.

However, there are combination Pap/HPV tests that exist as well. If a woman receives this cotest, it’s advised that she receive it every five years as well, or if she gets a Pap test only, that should be performed every three years.  

Remember that these guidelines apply to women whose screenings are normal. If any suspicious cells are found during screening, or if you’re found to be HPV-positive, you’re tested more frequently and monitored. 

Additionally, you should still get screened, even if you’ve had the HPV vaccine. 

Once you reach age 65 and have a series of normal HPV, Pap/HPV cotests, or Pap tests, screening can cease. 

Getting your HPV test or Pap test at the Miami Institute of Urogynecology and Minimally Invasive Surgery is a must. Call the office at 786-220-8664 to schedule an appointment, or request one online

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