Pap Smears–A Valuable Screening Tool for Cervical Cancer
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued new guidelines in 2012, recommending that most women only need a pap smear every three to five years instead of annually; however, pap smears still serve as a valuable screening tool for cervical cancer.
Our Austin Obgyns want patients to know that they should trust the new ACOG guidelines because they’re backed up by years of solid research that found that certain types of HPV viruses cause cervical cancer. Research showed that adding testing for HPV, along with pap smears, provides excellent results.
Pap Smear Testing Guidelines for Patients of all Ages
The Renaissance Women’s Group ob/gyn team follows the ACOG guidelines for pap smear testing.
Patients under 21 no longer need pap smears, even if they’re sexually active.
Women should get their first pap smear at age 21, and the test should be performed every three years until age 29. This age group does not need HPV testing.
Ages 30 and older
If a woman has had negative results in the past, she should have a pap smear, along with an HPV test (called “co-testing”) every five years. Co-testing is highly recommended, but if that isn’t available, then the patient should have a pap smear every three years.
Some high-risk patients may need pap smears more often. Patients who may fall into this group include those who:
- Have a history of cervical cancer
- Are HIV positive
- Were exposed to DES (diethylstilbestrol) in utero
It’s also important to note that:
- Women who have had hysterectomies may still need pap smears (depending on whether the cervix was removed and other factors).
- Even if you have had the HPV vaccine, you still need to have pap smears for cervical cancer screening.
What to Expect When You Have a Pap Smear
If you’ve never had a pap smear, you may feel nervous and wonder what to expect. At Renaissance Women’s Group, we will walk you through the process with professionalism and kindness:
- You will be undressed (covered by a sheet or gown). You’ll lie on the examination table with your heels resting in the stirrups at the end of the table.
- During the pap test, the doctor gently inserts into your vagina a speculum (an instrument that holds the vaginal walls apart, allowing the doctor to view your cervix). You may feel some gentle pressure.
- The doctor takes samples of the cervical cells with a spatula (a scraping device). This shouldn’t feel painful, although some women may experience slight discomfort.
How to Prepare for Your Pap Smear
Before the pap test, your ob/gyn team suggests that you:
- Do not have intercourse, use a vaginal douche, or vaginal medications, spermicidal creams, foams or jellies for two days prior to your pap smear.
- Try to avoid scheduling your pap smear during your menstrual period.
Following these guidelines will help us achieve the best test results.
Your Annual Exam Is Still Very Important
Even though you may not need an annual pap smear, scheduling an annual exam is still very important. The annual exam includes exams, screenings and health discussions that are vital to your continuing health care. Dr. Collins says, “I still look at the cervix every visit. The patient may not be having a pap smear, but she may have a polyp that could be precancerous. There are other issues that we’re screening for even though we may not order a pap test.”
To schedule your annual exam or ask about pap smears, contact us at the North Austin, Bastrop or Cedar Park offices of Renaissance Women’s Group to make an appointment.