A few decades ago, cervical cancer was one of the most common cancers diagnosed in women. Thanks to the increased use of Pap smears, we can now catch this type of cancer in its precancerous stages and take immediate action. In fact, there are fewer than 14,000 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed each year in the United States, all thanks to the Pap test.
At Shelnutt Gynecology, Dr. Judson Shelnutt understands the value of preventive health screenings and the Pap smear is one of the easiest and most effective tools that we have in our arsenal.
Here’s a look at why we perform regular Pap smears and how often you should have them.
Behind the Pap test
A Pap smear is an incredibly easy and painless process in which we take a swab of your cervix, often during your regular pelvic exam.
The swab collects cells from your cervix and we check them for any abnormal changes that can be a precursor to cancer. Taking action during these early stages allows us to help you avoid a cancer diagnosis altogether. In fact, removing abnormal cells prevents cervical cancer in 95% of cases.
Getting tested in your 20s
If you’re in your 20s, we recommend that you have us perform a Pap test every three years, even if you’ve had the HPV vaccine. Approximately 80% of women who are sexually active and in their 20s are infected by HPV and, in most cases, their bodies do a great job of fighting off the infection on their own.
But this infection can also alter your Pap test results. If we find abnormal cells in your Pap smear, the odds are fairly high that they’re caused by an HPV infection, which is why you shouldn’t be alarmed if your test comes back “abnormal.” In most cases, we simply follow up with another Pap smear to allow time for your body to fight off the infection.
If your results continue to show abnormal cells, we may use a biopsy to determine whether there are any precancerous or cancerous cells and take swift action to clear them away.
Getting tested after 30
Our recommendation for your Pap smears changes slightly after you enter your 30s, as you’ve likely been exposed to HPV.
For women between the ages of 30 and 65, we recommend that you get a Pap smear and HPV test every five years. The reason why we add the HPV test is because if you still show signs of this infection after your 20s, it may mean that your body hasn’t successfully fought it off. There are dozens of HPV strains and a handful are more serious and tenacious.
By performing both tests every five years, we can monitor your reproductive health to stay one step ahead of dangerous infections that have the potential of turning cancerous if left unaddressed.
Women over the age of 65 who’ve had two normal Pap and HPV tests in the last 10 years can generally phase out both tests at this point in their lives.
If you’d like to learn more or schedule your Pap smear, contact our office in Athens, Georgia, by phone or online to set up an appointment today.