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Here's How Often You Should Have a Pap Smear

Apr 05, 2024

If you think a Pap smear has to be part of your annual well woman visit every year, think again. Here’s the latest cadence that experts recommend to ensure you stay ahead of cervical cancer.

A Pap smear gives you a powerful way to catch cervical cancer. While rates of this cancer have been declining thanks to human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, the American Cancer Society still estimates that more than 13,000 women will get a cervical cancer diagnosis this year. 

Fortunately, the earlier abnormal cells are detected, the less likely cancer can pose a threat to your long-term health. In fact, when doctors catch this cancer and it’s still localized, 91% of women survive past the five-year mark. 

That makes it well worth the hassle of getting a Pap smear on the schedule experts recommend. That doesn’t mean an annual Pap smear, either. Most women can go a few years between cervical cancer screenings.

At Burlington OBGYN Associates, our all-female team of doctors and nurse practitioners recommends a Pap smear schedule tailored to you. Visit us at our office in Burlington, Massachusetts, and we can let you know how frequently you should be getting this screening.

To give you a general idea of the right cadence for you, let’s review the current recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Under 21

If you fall into this age group, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll develop cervical cancer. You don’t need to start getting Pap smears just yet. 

Ages 21–29

You should get your first Pap test around age 21. Our team can help you schedule your initial cervical cancer screening and explain what to expect. While most women don’t look forward to this experience, it shouldn’t be painful and it only takes a few minutes. We work with you to keep you as comfortable as possible.

You should get another Pap smear every three years while you’re in your 20s. 

Ages 30–65

At age 30, we can introduce HPV testing with your Pap smear. When you’re getting both at once — called co-testing — we can extend the gap between your screenings to five years. 

Over 65

At age 65, you’re a candidate to stop getting Pap smears provided that you’ve never had abnormal cervical cells show up in a previous Pap test. Our team can help you determine if it’s safe for you to stop getting this screening. 

When you might need screening more often

All of the above applies if you have an average risk of getting cervical cancer. A heightened risk means you and your care team may be more diligent in your screenings. We generally recommend more frequent Pap smears if:

  • You have a family history of cervical cancer
  • You’ve had an abnormal Pap smear in the past
  • You have a weakened immune system
  • You have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

It’s also a good idea to screen more often if you were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before you were born. DES is a hormone doctors gave to some pregnant women between 1940 and 1971. 

Several factors play into the right cervical cancer screening schedule for you. To find the best cadence to protect yourself — and to get a comfortable, convenient Pap smear when you need one — call Burlington OBGYN Associates or book an appointment online today.