Many of my patients come in to see me wondering about all the new guidelines and how often they need Pap smears.

Why is this important?

  • Every year, 11,000 women in the US women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer
  • About 4,000 women will die from cervical cancer
  • To compare that about 3,200 people die each day in a car accident
  • Many women are diagnosed with atypical (not typical) cervical cells or pre-cancerous cervical changes from an infection with a High Risk type of HPV (link to HPV infection blog and video) 

What is a Pap Smear?

When a woman has a Pap smear, a very small amount of cells are collected from her cervix. This is usually painless and takes less than 20 seconds. The cells are then evaluated for any changes that could indicate a pre-cancerous or cancerous condition. The cells can also be checked to see if they’ve been infected with HPV, Human Papilloma Virus, which in rare cases, if left untreated and un-evaluated, could lead to cervical cancer.

How often should a women have a Pap Smear?

These are the Guidelines from the American Cancer Society

  • Begin Cervical Cancer screening with a Pap at age 21
  • Women 21- 29:  Pap smear every 3 years
  • Women 30 – 65:  Pap smear plus HPV co-testing every 3  – 5 years
  • Women over 65: It depends upon their personal medical history and they should check with their providers

Remember, these are guidelines for screening. If you have had an abnormal pap smear, it’s likely you’ll be asked to have a repeat pap smear every year. 

What is a colposcopy?

If you’ve been diagnosed with an abnormal or atypical pap smear, your provider will want to do a colposcopy. Basically, this is when they will look through a microscope-like device to magnify what they can see on your cervix to look for any tell-tale signs of HPV infection and changes in the cells. They will take a few biopsies. This can be done in an office setting and takes about 20-30 minutes. The results will be available in about 1 week.

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