How Often Should You Have a Pap Smear?

Taking care of your body is part of being a woman. Developing a healthy relationship with your doctor should begin when you’re young. It’s vital to maintain that rapport after menstruation, and sexual activity occurs.

While the medical issues associated with womanhood can be painful, a pap smear isn’t one of them.

Receiving your regular pap smear is necessary even if it’s not fun.

Pap smears serve the purpose of monitoring your cervical tissue. But 11% of women aren’t receiving a regular pap smear according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

Read along as we discuss the pap smear test.

What is a Pap Smear?

A pap test examines the cervix, the entrance of the uterus, for abnormal cells. Abnormal cells may turn into cervical cancer when not monitored and untreated.

To increase your chances of beating cervical cancer, early detection of the cancerous cells is crucial. Pap tests also find precancerous cells allowing for removal and preventing the disease.

Every year an estimated 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and over 4,000 women die from it, according to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition.

What is an HPV Test?

The human papillomavirus (HPV) test checks for the HPV in cervical cells. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that can go away by itself. However, if it remains in some people, cervical cancer may develop.

Of the 150 strains of HPV, only 12 strains are high risk. But types 16 and 18 cause cervical cancer most often, according to the NYU Langone Health. 

A few low-risk strains “cause mild cervical dysplasia,” but the cells aren’t precancerous. 

How Often Should You Get a Pap Smear?

The pap smear guidelines changed within the past year. According to the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendation, women should get “high-risk HPV testing alone” every five years instead of every three years” with Pap testing alone.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states if you are 21-29 years old, you get a pap test every three years. For women ages 30-65 with typical test results you can receive a pap test every three years, an HPV test every five years, and a co-test of both a pap smear and HPV test every five years.

But these are recommendations. A physician can decide the frequency of your pap smears by examining previous test results, your family history, and risk factors.

If you’re interested in learning about women’s health tips from qualified healthcare professionals, view for more here. 

Does a Pap Smear Test for HPV?

A pap smear test doesn’t screen for the human papillomavirus. You can receive an HPV test during your pap smear test since both samples get collected the same way.

How to Prep for a Pap Smear and HPV Test

It is not recommended to get a pap smear during your menstrual cycle. 

Ensure you abstain from sexual activity, douching, vaginal medications, and spermicidal products for two days before your pap smear test. They may interfere with abnormal cells.

How are Pap Smears and HPV Tests Conducted?

To complete a pap smear and HPV test, the healthcare provider inserts a speculum into the vagina to open it. Then a stick or brush collects a cell sample from the exterior of the cervix. The sample gets processed inside a laboratory.

Getting Your Results

Receiving your pap smear test results can take up to three weeks. If your doctor hasn’t contacted you within three weeks, reach to the office and schedule an appointment. 

Pap smear tests fall into three categories normal, abnormal, and unclear.

Normal Test Results

A normal test result means there wasn’t a change to your cervical cells. If you received a pap only, then you may wait for three years to get your next exam. If you received a co-test, then you may be able to wait five years for your next test.

Abnormal Test Results

An abnormal test result means the cervical cells changed mostly likely due to HPV. The cell changes could be minor or serious. Most cells will return to their normal state. But serious precancerous cells may transform into cancer if not removed.

Sometimes an abnormal pap will show cervical cancer is present, but more testing is necessary.

Unclear Test Results

Unclear test results mean the cells could be abnormal, but it’s unclear if it’s because of HPV. Changes in your life, such as pregnancy, infection, or menopause, might be the cause. Your physician can tell you the next steps, like getting an HPV test.

Who Doesn’t Need a Pap Smear or HPV Test?

The new (USPSTF) recommendation would not include women younger than 21 or older than 65 with proper screening history who are not high-risk. Women without a cervix due to uterus and cervix removal and a family history of “high-grade precancerous lesions” get excluded too.

If your cervix is still intact, you should continue receiving a pap smear and HPV test until you turn 65. A history of three regular pap test results or two normal “co-tests” within ten years and the last test got done within five years are needed, according to the Office on Women’s Health.

Speak with your doctor for clarity about whether you need to continue receiving a pap smear and HPV test.

Schedule Your Appointment

A pap smear and HPV test are beneficial to women’s lives. They help alert us to changes in our cervix that need our attention. Be sure to schedule your exam when it’s time.

For more information about women’s health, check out the women’s section.