The guidelines for cervical cancer screening have changed a lot over the years, which can be quite confusing. But, here is the good news: PAP smears are done less frequently these days when the result is normal.
PAP smears are generally not done under the age of 21, even if sexually active prior to this age. If a PAP result is normal in a person between the ages of 21 and 29, the next PAP is not due for 3-years. Why the change? Well, research has shown that being infected with HPV is relatively common, and many are able to get rid of the infection on their own. Testing super frequently, like was done in the 90’s and early 2000’s, was overkill (and not to mention inconvenient and uncomfortable!)
For patients over the age of 30, a PAP test and HPV test are done each time (both are done in the same test – no extra swabs or steps are needed for this). If both tests are negative, then the next PAP test is due in 5-years. HPV is such a strong risk factor for cervical cancer that if a person is HPV negative on the PAP, the chances of developing cervical cancer are quite low.
There are newer guidelines for abnormal PAP results, too. As the body of evidence from research grows on this topic, we are able to screen more effectively and efficiently.
One last thing – PAP tests are one of the best screening tests that we have for cancer screening. So much more accurate than even a mammogram in screening for breast cancer and any screening test we have for prostate cancer. So, if you’ve missed your PAP due to the pandemic or any other reason, come see us so we can get you caught up.