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Pap Test — How Often You Should Have This Important Screening

There are many reasons you should keep up with your annual well woman exams here at Tahoe Women’s Care, and screening for reproductive cancers, namely cervical and breast cancer, are on this important list. 

Nearly 14,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer each year, and this number is down significantly from a few decades ago. More specifically, the rate of cervical cancer diagnoses decreased by more than half from the mid-1970s to the mid-2000s, thanks in large part to screening tools like the Pap test.

In this month’s blog post, Dr. Gary Willen and the team review a few key points about Pap testing and how often we want you to avail yourself of this valuable screening tool.

Pap test basics

The Pap test, which is also referred to as a Pap smear, is an incredibly simple test in which we collect cells from your cervix and test them for any abnormalities or cell changes that could lead to cancer. 

During your Pap test, we use a swab to gently remove the cells from the surface of your cervix, which is located at the top of your vagina, just below your uterus. 

The Pap test isn’t painful, and we perform it as part of your pelvic exam.

The role of HPV and certain cancers

Cervical cancer is most often the result of a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection — and there are about 200 different viruses related to HPV. Of these, there are 12 high-risk HPV types that are associated with six different cancers:

  1. Cervical cancer
  2. Vaginal cancer
  3. Vulvar cancer
  4. Penile cancer
  5. Anal cancer
  6. Throat cancer

When you have an HPV infection, and most sexually active women are infected at some point, your body often fights off the virus. If, however, you’re infected by a high-risk strain of HPV, your cells can go from normal to abnormal to precancerous, and then cancerous. And a Pap test can detect these cell changes.

We can also perform an HPV test, which is slightly different than a Pap test, as it identifies the strain of HPV. A Pap test only tests the cells for irregularities.

A good Pap test schedule

When it comes to how often you should have us perform a Pap test, we agree with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which set forth the following guidelines:

Ages 21 to 29

Whether you’re sexually active or not, we recommend a Pap test every 3 years for this age group.

Ages 30 to 65

For this age bracket, we recommend one of these options:

After age 65

You can discontinue testing if your tests are coming back negative and you don’t have a strong history of abnormal results. If testing does show signs of cell changes, we will continue screening.

Of course, your results from your Pap and/or HPV tests will have the final word when it comes to your testing schedule. For example, if a Pap test comes back with abnormal results, we may test every few months to make sure your body fights off the infection and your cells return to normal.

The best way to determine what Pap test and screening schedule is right for you is to come see us. We can establish a baseline and go from there. To make an appointment, please contact our office in Carson City, Nevada.

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