The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force is in the process of updating the recommendations about screening for cervical cancer, and that might leave some women wondering what to expect at their next gynecologic exam.
"The new guidelines recommend that women begin having a Pap smear at age 21 until age 65,” said Jessica Bell, PA-C, from Samaritan Gynecology & Surgical Associates in Corvallis. “From age 21 to 30 it’s recommended women receive a Pap smear every two years, and after age 30 that can be stretched out to five years if women have an HPV test at the same time as their Pap smear.” Bell notes that HPV (human Papilloma virus) tests can also be done if a woman has an abnormal Pap smear.
According to the American Cancer Society, factors which increase the risk for cervical cancer include being infected with HPV, smoking, having a weakened immune system and a history of chlamydia.
Although the Pap smear is no longer recommended until age 21, Bell notes that women should still come in for a pelvic exam at the initiation of intercourse to be screened for sexually transmitted infections and to discuss contraception. For women who are over the age of 65 but are sexually active, Bell advises talking with your provider about continuing Pap smears.
"It’s still important that women receive an annual pelvic exam — a Pap smear and pelvic exam are not the same thing,” said Bell. “The Pap smear is the gold standard for screening for cervical cancer, but we can visually examine for different kinds of infections and cancers at an exam. Sexually transmitted infections can become a real problem if left untreated.”
Learn more about Women’s Health services at Samaritan Health Services.