How Often Should You Really Have a Pap Smear?

There are a couple of things that you dread every year: Your in-laws coming to visit, your performance review, doing your taxes and of course, your yearly gyno appointment for the ever-so-awkward pelvic and pap exam. Each year, you go in and you sit in the cold and sterile waiting room, just hoping that your name gets called already so you can get this over with. You reconcile your feelings by bribing yourself. Telling yourself you'll go to Panera afterward and treat yourself to a nice lunch or spend a few extra dollars on one of those artisan coffees. Then once it's all over you schedule another appointment for next year, ugh!

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woman with a doctor

What if you found out that you only had to have a Pap smear every three years?! Would you jump for joy or be hesitant? Yes, it does check for cancer and cancer is of course something to worry about. Yet, even the CDC recommends getting regular screening tests every three years. If you're between the ages of 21 and 29 it's every three years. Between the ages of 30 and 65, it's recommended that you get a Pap smear every three years and ask for a HPV test too. For women over 65 and women who have had a hysterectomy, its unneeded to have a pap test anymore.

A pap smear is used to test for cervical cancer. This type of cancer is actually caused by an STD called human papillomavirus, more commonly known as HPV. Risks of getting cervical cancer decline in women who have been in long-term monogamous relationships and have normal Pap smear results. The other reason the cervical cancer screening guidelines recommend every three years is because this type of cancer is actually a slow-growing cancer and takes years to develop. (via CDC)

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The American Cancer Society has also found that having annual screenings can actually be harmful. When it comes to Pap tests, false positives happen frequently. This may lead to more frequent screening and more follow up tests that end up being invasive and have unwanted side effects. If you instead screen every three years, then the number of false positives decreases and it's important to note that the possibility of cancer does not increase.

Once you're 30, do an HPV test with a Pap test and if both tests come back normal, you don't have to do another Pap test for another five years! Of course, you should still see your doctor more than every 5 years but at least you don't need to do that annoying Pap test. Some doctors may still recommend having a Pap test every year, the reason being that most doctors think that their patients want a Pap test every year to be sure that they don't get cancer. They also might be avoiding a conversation about why it's unnecessary to get a test every year, or maybe they just don't know the new guidelines. (via American Cancer Society)


It's always important to talk to your doctor about this type of stuff, especially when it concerns your health! Be sure to have an open and honest conversation with your doctor about your cervical health and how often you should have a Pap Smear.