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Who should have a Pap test?

The American Cancer Society (ACS), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommend:

  • All women should begin screening at age 21.
  • Women ages 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every three years. They should not have a human papillomavirus (HPV) test unless it is needed because of an abnormal Pap test result.
  • Women ages 30 to 65 should have both a Pap test and an HPV test every five years or a Pap test alone every three years. (The ACS and ACOG prefer the two tests together every five years but say either method is acceptable; the USPSTF recommends either schedule.)
  • Women over age 65 who have been screened previously with normal results and are not at high risk for cervical cancer should stop getting screened. Women with cervical precancer should continue to be screened.
  • Women who have had a total hysterectomy, with removal of their uterus and cervix, and have no history of cervical cancer or precancer should not be screened.
  • Women who have received the HPV vaccine should still follow the screening guidelines for their age group.
  • Women who are at high risk for cervical cancer may need more frequent screening. Talk to your healthcare professional about what's right for you.
Dr. Kevin W. Windom, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

The Pap test recommendations have recently changed so don't be surprised if your doctor tells you something different. All women need their first test at age 21 and at least every other year until age 30. From 30-65 women need Pap tests at least every 3 years. You can quit at 65 years old if you have no risk factors and at least a decade of normal Pap tests.

I am a little different with my patients. I do the first pap at age 21 or 3 years after their first sexual encounter. At age 30 I start testing for HPV and if a patient has three normal Paps in a row and has low risk for cervical cancer then it is ok to have them every 2-3 years. Just remember that you need to see your healthcare provider every year regardless of having a Pap or not having one.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.