Research gives new information that changes how we care for our patients. Much has been learned about cervical cancer, where it comes from, how to test for it, and ways to prevent the disease. We used to recommend getting Pap smears every year. But we now know that cervical cancer takes many years to develop, and is typically associated with Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV. Since more than 90% of cervical cancers come from HPV, a sexually transmitted disease, less frequent screenings can still identify the disease early. As a result, we no longer recommend annual Pap smears for most women.
Instead, the cervical screening is typically based on age:
Age 21 – 29: You should have your first Pap smear at age 21, and if it’s normal, have it repeated every 3 years. Because cervical cancer rarely, if ever, occurs in young women, we don’t recommend they have HPV testing.
Age 30 – 65: Women in this age group should have a Pap smear plus an HPV test every 5 years.
Age 65 and up: Women in this age group who have no history of abnormal cervical cells and no recent abnormal Pap smears can stop having cervical cancer screenings.
A conversation with your doctor is the best way to determine if you need more frequent screening. You should also talk with your doctor about the HPV vaccine, which can help prevent cervical, vaginal, and anal cancers and genital warts, and is now approved for women up to age 45.
We know this information is confusing, but Nash Ob/Gyn is committed to providing high quality care to our patients, through all stages of life. Your ‘annual’ exam is more than a pap smear and provides an opportunity to take charge of your health. Preventive health care includes the following:
Discussion of health topics relevant to your age and risk factors
Review and update your current medical problems and medications
Exams and screening tests
More specifically, we enjoy the opportunity to review birth control options, menstrual cycle regulation, management of menopausal symptoms, and bladder control. We may also discuss diet and exercise and review screening options for breast, colon and cervical cancers as well as testing for osteoporosis and sexually transmitted diseases.
While preventative visits such as the annual exam are usually covered by most insurances, it is important to realize that your insurance may not pay for you to have a pap smear test every year if you do not qualify based on the guidelines discussed here. You can request a pap smear be collected every year if you desire but if your insurance feels the pap smear is not medically necessary, you could receive a bill from the laboratory for that portion of your visit. We always recommend that you contact your insurance company directly if you have any questions about your benefits.
Please feel free at any time to contact our office if you would like to discuss this more with our staff or with your physician.