Pap tests are important tests for most women in an effort to detect cervical cancer or other cervical issues.
A pap smear, also called a pap exam or pap test, is a screening to test for cervical cancer or other abnormalities in the cervix. Early detection of cervical cancer with a pap smear gives you a greater chance of beating it. The exam can also detect abnormal cells that suggest cancer may develop in the future. But when should a woman begin getting the test?
Doctors recommend repeating pap testing every three years for women ages 21 to 65. Women ages 30 and older may consider pap testing every five years, combining the procedure with human papillomavirus (HPV) testing.
While this is the general rule for women, there are some risk factors that may require testing more frequently. These include:
- A diagnosis of cervical cancer or a pap test that reveals precancerous cells
- Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth. (DES is a synthetic form of estrogen that was prescribed to pregnant women between 1940 and 1970.)
- HIV infection
- Immune system weakened from organ transplant, chemotherapy or chronic corticosteroid use
- A history of smoking
What Can I Expect During a Pap Exam?
During a pap exam, your doctor will gently scrape cells from the cervix. It is possible that the exam will feel uncomfortable, however a pap smear should never cause pain.
It can take up to three weeks for test results to come back. If those results show something that might not be normal, your doctor will contact you to discuss the appropriate follow up. There are many reasons a test could have abnormalities, and it usually does not mean cancer.
If results reveal cells that are abnormal and could become cancerous, your doctor will discuss treatment options. In most cases, treatment prevents cervical cancer from developing.
If the pap test results are normal, your chance of getting cervical cancer in the next few years is very low. Your doctor may say you can wait a few years before your next cervical cancer screening, but you should still see your doctor for regular checkups.
While the test may feel uncomfortable or awkward, detecting cervical cancer early with a pap smear means a better chance for a cure.
When Can I Stop Having Pap Smears?
In some situations, a doctor may support ending pap testing, such as:
- After a total hysterectomy. If you have a hysterectomy for a noncancerous condition such as uterine fibroids, you may be able to stop having pap smears.
- Older age. Generally, doctors agree that a woman can consider stopping pap exams at age 65 if previous tests have been negative.
Contact us today to discuss whether it’s time for an exam!