Did you know that your Annual Exam does not have to include a Pap Smear? Although women have been told for many years to get a Pap Smear every year, the guidelines have recently changed. It is now advised that Pap Smears be conducted every three to five years for most women. Here are some answers to commonly asked questions:
What Does a Pap Smear Test For?
A Pap Smear is a screening test for any changes in the cells of your cervix that may be caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). These changes, if severe enough, could be a sign of the early stages of cervical cancer. A Pap Smear does not directly test for HPV however.
Is there a test for HPV?
Yes. We can test for certain “high risk” strains of the HPV virus, those more likely to cause cancer. Often the lab will automatically test for High Risk HPV with a Pap Smear.
Why did the guidelines change for Pap Testing?
A lot of new information about HPV has emerged. Here is what we have learned.
- Normal healthy women are at very low risk for developing cervical cancer.
- The changes caused by HPV that come before cancer are very slow growing and usually resolve without ever becoming cancer.
- Having a Pap Smear every year increases the risk of false abnormal results that can lead to unnecessary procedures.
Here is a basic summary most women can follow:
- Pap Smear testing starts at 21 years of age.
- Most women will be able to have a Pap Smear every 3 years.
- Women over 30 can choose to have an HPV DNA test done with the Pap Smear; if this test is negative these women can have a Pap Smear every 5 years.
- Women over 65 years of age with a healthy history can stop having Pap Smears.
If I don’t need a Pap Smear every year, why do I still need an Annual Exam?
Your breast cancer risks will be assessed and your breasts examined. Your uterus and ovaries will be checked. Screening for sexually transmitted diseases is recommended every year for sexually active women. This is a great time to have face-to-face communication with your provider regarding birth control or hormone replacement needs.
Vitalize has a Naturopath, Dr. Danielle Engles ND. Dr. Engles is now excepting all major insurance carriers (with the exception of Kaiser) and is currently taking new patients. Dr. Engles is an expert in Women's Health and is passionate about her work with women. If its time for your annual exam, you can schedule here.