What is a Pap Test?
A Pap test can literally save your life by finding early signs of cervical cancer. If caught early enough, there is a very high chance of successful treatment of cervical cancer. Pap tests can also find abnormal cervical cells before they turn into cancer cells. Treating these abnormal cells can help prevent most cases of cervical cancer from developing. Getting a Pap test is the best thing you can do to prevent cervical cancer.
Most women ages 21 to 65 should get Pap tests as part of routine health care. Even if you are not currently sexually active, you should still have a Pap test. Women who have gone through menopause (when a woman’s periods stop) and are younger than 65 still need regular Pap tests.
Women who do not have a cervix (usually because of a hysterectomy), and who also do not have a history of cervical cancer or abnormal Pap results, do not need Pap tests. Women ages 65 and older who have had three normal Pap tests in a row and no abnormal test results in the last 10 years do not need Pap tests.
How often should I get a pap test?
It depends on your age and health history. Talk with your doctor about what is best for you. Most women can follow these guidelines:
If you are between ages 21 and 29, you should get a Pap test every 3 years.
If you are between ages 30 and 64, you should get a Pap test and human papillomavirus (HPV) test together every 5 years or a Pap test alone every 3 years.
If you are 65 or older, ask your doctor if you can stop having Pap tests.
Some women may need more frequent Pap tests. You should talk to your doctor about getting a Pap test more often if:
You have a weakened immune system because of organ transplant, chemotherapy, or steroid use.
Your mother was exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant.
You have had treatment for abnormal Pap results or cervical cancer in the past.
You are HIV-positive. Women who are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are at a higher risk of cervical cancer and other cervical diseases. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all HIV-positive women get an initial Pap test, and get re-tested 6 months later. If both Pap smears are normal, HIV-positive women can get yearly Pap tests in the future.
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