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MG Asks: How Often Do We Really Need A Pap Smear?

Katherine Barner

Posted on October 26 2016

Chances are, you’ve been told to get a pap smear every year. You’ve gone to your “annual,” no one’s favorite day of the year, put on that paper blanket that is constantly slipping, and no matter how far down you scoot your butt towards the end of the table, your doctor will always tell you to ‘scoot a little further.”

There’s no doubt the Pap smear is important for the health of vagina carrying people, but we could all think of more pleasant ways to spend a Wednesday afternoon.

What you may not know is in 2012 the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology(ACOG) and the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) announced that women ages 21-29 who have not had an abnormal Pap smear only need to get one every three years.

Say what, now?

Chances are, your doctor did not adapt to this right away. Even four years later, my gynecologist didn’t mention this: I learned from my primary that the annual Pap smear wasn’t necessary for me.

Still a bit skeptical?

That’s okay! In April 2015, the American College of Physicians released a paper that advises physicians to “start screening average risk women for cervical cancer at age 21 once every three years with cytology tests alone.” With a few more words, this mirrors what ACOG and USPSTF said in 2012.

What happens after you are 29, you may ask? According to guidelines, you should have a Pap smear every three years or both a Pap and HPV test every five years.

Every vagina is different

Of course, every body and every vagina is different, so in the end, do what you feel is best for you. If you’re having unprotected sex with multiple partners, you may want to keep the Pap smear on an annual basis to screen for HPV. Keep in mind, Paps aren’t to be confused with STD screening: again, that is something that should be done to your discretion, especially if you have a new partner.

Pap Smears save lives

Pap smears can be credited to a 50% decrease of cervical cancer in the last three decades. Thanks to the Pap smear, doctors are able to detect abnormal cellular change before it forms into full-blown cancer. If you’ve gone through this before, you know it doesn’t hurt, it’s nothing to be afraid of, but it is mildly uncomfortable.

Abnormal testing will require more frequent Pap smears. If you’re unsure what’s best for you, always talk to your doctor.

Photo via Girls

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