When not to get a Pap Test
If you dutifully visit your ob-gyn for a Pap smear every year, you might want to change your routine. There are new government guidelines for the test, which checks for abnormal changes in cells in your cervix that might lead to cervical cancer. Experts now believe that less frequent tests may be safer because getting tested too often can lead to false positives and invasive follow-up diagnostics, such as biopsies and colposcopies – not to mention anxiety and stress. Here’s the latest advice for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government advisory panel of medical experts:
- 20 and Younger Skip the Pap smear regardless of sexual history. Cervical cancer is rare in this group, and any abnormal cells often return to normal over time.
- 21 to 29 Get a Pap test every three years. Skip getting the test for the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer.
- 30 to 65 Get a Pap smear every three years or go every five years for both a Pap smear and an HPV test.
- 66 and Older Skip the Pap test as long as you’re not considered high risk – for example, you’ve had cervical cancer or dysplasia or you have a compromised immune system – and you’ve had three normal Paps or two normal HPV tests in a row in the pas decade, with the most recent one within the past five years.
You can also skip getting a Pap smear if you’ve had a hysterectomy and your cervix removed for reasons other than cancer.
Just keep this in mind: The new guidelines aren’t an excuse to skip your annual appointment with your ob-gyn, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. That exam is about a lot more than just a Pap. Depending on your age, it could include a pelvic and breast exam, a discussion about the right birth control for you, or a chat about menopause concerns. It’s also important to keep track of when you had your last Pap smear because that might be a challenge to remember now.
Also keep in mind that you should start getting mammograms every two years once you turn 50, depending on your health and family history. If you have questions or concerns about the recommendations, discuss them with your doctor.