Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers among women in the United States. Fortunately, Pap smears are an effective way to identify signs of cervical cancer when it’s in the early stages and most treatable.
A Pap smear is a quick, in-office screening that can be done alongside your annual gynecological exam. Because of the slow-developing nature of cervical cancer, however, you may not need to schedule a Pap smear every year.
To help you determine when it’s time to schedule your next Pap smear, turn to the experts at OB/GYN Specialists. Daniel McDonald, MD, Marc Wilson, MD, and our team in Denton, Texas, specialize in women’s health, and we’re here to develop a care plan that meets your needs.
How often to schedule Pap smears
Pap smears are the best way to screen for cervical cancer. Frequent screenings increase our chances of identifying cancer in early stages, when it’s most treatable.
Your risk of cancer changes based on your age, health, and other factors — and how often you need Pap smears changes too. Every woman’s health needs are unique, so talk to Dr. McDonald and Dr. Wilson if you’re not sure whether you need a Pap smear.
In general, we recommend following these guidelines:
When you’re 21-30 years old
Teens rarely need Pap smears, and most women should have their first Pap smear around age 21. Once you start getting Pap smears, you should have one every three years as long as your results come back normal.
You can combine your Pap smears with your annual pelvic exams. You may also have the option to combine it with human papillomavirus (HPV) screening. HPV is a common sexually transmitted disease, and some strains can cause cervical cancer if left untreated.
When you’re 31-65 years old
Once you enter your 30s, you may start scheduling Pap smears every five years. These Pap smears are generally combined with HPV screening, and you can expect to continue getting both tests until around age 65.
You need Pap tests even if you’re in menopause, because you could still develop cervical cancer. After age 65, we review your Pap test history to determine if your risk of cancer is low enough that you can discontinue screenings.
If you’ve had a hysterectomy
A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure to remove your uterus. Some types of hysterectomy only remove your uterus, while others remove more reproductive organs along with it.
If you had a hysterectomy that removed your cervix, you’re no longer at risk for cervical cancer and you don’t need Pap smears anymore. If you still have your cervix following a hysterectomy, you need to continue getting Pap smears.
What to do following abnormal Pap smear results
Most of the time, Pap smear results come back normal. That means there’s no sign of cervical cancer, and you can simply schedule your next screening as needed.
However, abnormal Pap smear results are possible. If our office contacts you to let you know that your Pap smear results were abnormal, it doesn’t automatically mean you have cervical cancer. It does mean you’ll need additional testing to identify the cause.
Abnormal Pap results can sometimes come from minor issues, like hormonal fluctuation or a yeast infection. In other cases, they may indicate cervical cancer.
To identify your diagnosis, we may order follow-up Pap smears and additional testing. Then, we review the results of your follow-up tests to confirm your diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
Regular Pap smears are the best way to protect against cervical cancer, and they should be part of your ongoing health care plan. Find out when to schedule your next screening at OB/GYN Specialists. Call our office at 940-202-0566 or send us a message online now.