Pap smear testing recommendations have changed quite a bit since I first started practicing 25 years ago. At that point, pap smears were done once or twice a year. But since that time, we have developed new screening techniques and tests as well as a better understanding of cervical cancer, which has allowed us to do more accurate testing with less frequency.
HPV, or Human Papilloma Virus, has been found to be the cause of cervical cancer. It is sexually transmitted, and there is no test for male partners at this point. All cervical cancer is associated with HPV, although having HPV does not mean you will get cervical cancer. There are many different types, and different risks associated with each type.
Currently, pap testing starts at age 21. Between the ages of 21 and 29, you can get paps every 3 years, assuming the test comes back normal. At age 30, we add the HPV test. If the pap is normal, then the interval is extended to every 5 years. And at age 65, if you’ve had normal testing for the past 20 years, you no longer need pap testing. Of course, if you have a history of cervical cancer, or an immune suppressive disorder, you should follow the schedule your provider prescribes. And you should still have an annual visit each year, where your medical history is reviewed and updated, and blood pressure is taken and a breast exam is performed. But don’t be surprised if you don’t need a pap!