How Often Should You Get a Pap Test?

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A Pap smear is an important part of women's health. Pap tests look for abnormal cells that may indicate precancerous or cancerous cells. Finding these abnormal cells early can help increase the odds of survival for cervical cancer. But just how often should you have a Pap smear? We will explain the recommended amount and why it is important to follow the recommendation.

Every Three Years

How often you should be receiving Pap tests depends upon your age and your overall risk. Generally, it is recommended that Pap tests begin at the age of 21 regardless of sexual activity. For most people from the age of 21 to 29, you should be having a Pap test every three years. From the ages of 30 to 65, you may have a Pap test in conjunction with an HPV test every five years.

Having a Pap smear every three years or a Pap test with an HPV test every five years is not any less effective at detecting cervical cancer early than annual tests. In fact, having Pap smears too frequently can be more harmful than helpful, as it increases your risk for false positives that can lead to more invasive tests.

Your doctor may recommend having Pap smears more frequently, however, if you fall under the following conditions:

  • You have a weakened immune system
  • Your mother was exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant with you
  • You are HIV positive
  • You have been treated for abnormal tests or cervical cancer in the past

When to Stop

Women who are over the age of 65 may be able to stop Pap tests if they have had three normal Pap tests in a row in the last 10 years. Women who have had a full hysterectomy and no longer have a cervix may also no longer need Pap tests. Be sure to consult your doctor before changing how frequently you are tested.

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