Can you really go 5 years between your pap tests?
By: Holly L. Thacker, MD • Posted on March 14, 2012
Yes, ladies it is true! You can safely space out pap tests (a collection of cells taken at the time of a periodic pelvic exam.). The US. Preventive Health task force recently released new pap test guidelines.
We start pap tests at age 21 and obtain them every three years. At age 30, if you also have a normal pap and a negative HPV test you can space them out to every 5 years and if normal your whole adult life, you may stop at age 65. So in normal women, with no risks and no abnormalities that may mean only 11 pap smears in your lifetime. Whooo hooo! Before you start celebrating ladies, that still does NOT exempt you from seeing your physician yearly and getting periodic breast and pelvic exams, yearly weights, blood pressures and other important health screening tests.
If you are a DES daughter, are HIV positive, or have high risk HPV or precancerous changes on pap tests, then the above screening guidelines do NOT apply to you! If you are a young woman and have received one of the two HPV vaccines that are available in a series of three injections, you still are screened in the same manner as other women, even though you are at reduced risk for becoming infected with one of the high risk strains of HPV that causes cervical cancer.
It has been years now that we have been performing both the HPV DNA test with pap test on women every three years who are age 30 or older and low risk, and now that we are increasing that interval up to 5 years, I know that many women will view these new guidelines suspiciously; however, you should not because we now have improved knowledge and improved techniques and now fully understand the cause of cervical cancer. This is really excellent news and will allow you and your health care professional to focus on more than just your cervix at your annual visit!
- Dr. Holly L. Thacker