No longer a leading cause of death among women in the United States, thanks in part to screening and prevention, cervical cancer is still a threat to women’s health.
Since January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, our dedicated providers here at the Center for Women’s Health in Wichita, Kansas, want you to know the facts about how often to schedule a Pap test. Our team, led by board-certified OB/GYN Sharon Breit, MD, is dedicated to excellence in gynecological care.
The importance of scheduling regular Pap tests
A Pap test is a vital screening test that detects abnormal cervical cells. It’s the most effective screening for cervical cancer, as it detects abnormal changes before they have a chance to become cancer and detects cervical cancer at the earliest stages.
As with other types of cancer, early detection is key to increasing the chances for successful treatment.
Persistent infection with high-risk strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infection, remains the most common cause of cervical cancer. HPV accounts for more than 99% of cervical cancer cases.
In its early stages, cervical cancer typically shows no symptoms, making regular screenings essential. The Pap test is a powerful tool in cervical cancer prevention and has played a key role in significantly reducing the number of cervical cancer cases and deaths.
Current guidelines for Pap tests
The frequency of Pap tests depends on your age and health history. Updated screening guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend:
Women aged 21-29
Should have a Pap test every three years. HPV testing is not recommended in this age group unless it's needed after an abnormal Pap test result.
Women aged 30-65
The ACOG recommends that women in this age group schedule a Pap test combined with an HPV test (co-testing) every five years. It’s also acceptable to have a Pap test alone every three years.
Women over 65
After the age of 65, you may be able to stop having cervical cancer screenings if you’ve had regular screenings in the past that were normal. If you’re over 65, discuss this with your care provider.
Women with certain risk factors
If you have certain risk factors, you may need more frequent screening. Infection with a high-risk strain of HPV, a history of cervical cancer, or a weakened immune system puts you at greater risk.
Individualized screening plans
Consult with a women’s health provider to determine the best screening plan for you. At the Center for Women’s Health, we take factors such as your overall health, lifestyle, and sexual history into consideration when recommending the frequency of screenings.
The role of HPV vaccination
Getting vaccinated against HPV can further reduce your risk of cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine is recommended for preteens but can be administered up to age 26 (or older in some cases). It's an important preventive measure. But it doesn't replace the need for regular Pap tests.
Your partner in women’s health
Take steps to prioritize your cervical health. Regular Pap tests, as per the recommended guidelines, are crucial in the early detection and prevention of cervical cancer.
Contact us at the Center for Women’s Health in Wichita, Kansas, to discuss or schedule your Pap test. You can also request a telehealth appointment. Stay proactive in protecting your cervical health.