Detecting cervical cancer early with a Pap smear gives you a greater chance at a cure. A Pap smear can also detect changes in your cervical cells that suggest cancer may develop in the future. Detecting these abnormal cells early with a Pap smear is your first step in halting the possible development of cervical cancer.
Why it's done
A Pap smear is used to screen for cervical cancer.
The Pap smear is usually done in conjunction with a pelvic exam. In women older than age 30, the Pap test may be combined with a test for human papillomavirus (HPV) — a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer. In some cases, the HPV test may be done instead of a Pap smear.
How often should a Pap smear be repeated?
Doctors generally recommend repeating Pap testing every three years for women ages 21 to 65.
Women age 30 and older can consider Pap testing every five years if the procedure is combined with testing for HPV. Or they might consider HPV testing instead of the Pap test.
If you have certain risk factors, your doctor may recommend more-frequent Pap smears, regardless of your age. These risk factors include:
- – A diagnosis of cervical cancer or a Pap smear that showed precancerous cells
- – Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth
- – HIV infection
- – Weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy or chronic corticosteroid use
- – A history of smoking
You and your doctor can discuss the benefits and risks of Pap smears and decide what’s best for you based on your risk factors.
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