If I had to give an award for the “Most Popular” question of 2014, the winner would be: “How often do I really need to have a pap smear?”
It’s not a surprise, really. The recommendations have changed several times over the years and despite the minor changes most of us have just resigned ourselves to the notion that we will be needing to visit our friendly neighborhood GYN until the end of time, give or take a day or two. From the time we reached puberty, we’ve been told by our mothers, our older sisters, our aunts, and our doctors to have those yearly paps. Nothing new, right?
There are some new recommendations and they apply to all age groups!
Women should have their first pap smear at age 21 (unless they have already been screened and have had an abnormal- sorry!) This is irrespective of whether or not the woman has had sex. THIS IS DIFFERENT THAN IN THE PAST! So, if you are 18 and your mother is trying to drag you into the doctor to have a pap just because she had to have one at age 18- you don’t have to go! Now, if you need to see the GYN for infection testing or birth control or period woes, come on in to the Women’s Clinic in Kansas City, KS. I’m still not going to torture you with a pap. (let me hear that big sigh of relief!)
Women in their 20s should have a pap every year or two (we are assuming here, that your first pap was normal…)
Ladies 30 and over: If you’ve had at least 3 normal pap smears in a row, we are going to recommend the pap smear every 2-3 years. This doesn’t mean you can skip out on your annual GYN visit- you still need an annual breast exam and pelvic exam- we just don’t have to do the pap.
Women over 65 and women who do not have a cervix may not need a pap smear at all, but should check with their doctor regarding their individual recommendations.
So, with the new recommendations, it looks like your next visit to the GYN may be a lot less uncomfortable. It also may mean that we will be finding ways to repurpose those “duck bill” speculums. Wind chimes maybe?
Dr. Lisa Lorenzetti