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Pap Smear

What is a Pap Smear?

The pap smear is a screening test for cervical cancer. It is done to check for abnormal or pre-cancerous changes on the cervix.

When should I begin to have Pap smears?

You should have your first pap smear when you turn 21.

I’m 18 and my mom says I should have a pap smear. Why should I wait until I’m 21?

Recent research has shown that HPV (human papillomavirus) infections (which can cause abnormal pap test results) are fairly common in sexually active adolescents and young people. Most of the time, this infection goes away all by itself. Additionally, the incidence of cervical cancer in women under the age of 21 is very low. Waiting until age 21 to have a pap smear allows time for an HPV infection to go away all by itself, thereby avoiding unnecessary treatments that can have economic, emotional, and future childbearing implications.

Shouldn’t I find out if I have an HPV infection and be treated right away, no matter what age I am?

HPV infection is very common in young people who are sexually active. The vast majority of persons infected with HPV will see the infection go away all on its own within 2 years. Treatment for cervical dysplasia (abnormal pap smear) due to HPV infection can be costly, uncomfortable, and recent studies have shown that some treatments can increase one’s risk for premature births in the future. Therefore, experts have determined that it is best to wait and see if the infection goes away by itself.

I thought I was supposed to have a pap smear every year. Why did my provider tell me to get my next one in two years?

Recent scientific evidence has shown that getting a pap smear each year is unnecessary for the prevention of cervical cancer.  Women from ages 21 to 30 should get a pap smear every 2-3 years, unless their practitioner recommends otherwise. Getting a pap smear every 2-3 years detects cervical cancer just as well, saves money, and avoids unnecessary treatments that may be harmful.

What about women over 30? How often should they get pap smears?

If a woman has had 3 consecutive negative pap smears, then she can get a pap smear once every 3-5 years. If she has had an abnormal pap smear in the past, the practitioner may want her to have pap tests more frequently. A woman may stop having pap smears when she is 65 or 70, has had 3 consecutive negative pap smears, and has not had an abnormal pap smear in the last 10 years.

I’ve had the vaccine for HPV. Do I still need to get a pap smear?

YES! The HPV vaccine protects against just a few of the strains of HPV that can infect the reproductive tract. Additionally, abnormal cervical changes can be due to things besides HPV. Women who have had the HPV vaccine still need to get regular pap smears and follow the same schedule as women who have not had the vaccine.

How do I make an appointment for a pap smear?

Call 909-869-4000 to schedule a pap smear. You will first be enrolled in the Birth Control Options class (either in-person or online) where you will learn about the women’s health exam and pap smear and all the types of birth control that are available. Once you complete this class, you can schedule your pap smear.

References:

http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/screening.htm#guidelines

http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/pdf/guidelines.pdf