Pap Smear Dos and Don'ts- New Recommendations
They all agree and that's a good thing. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, the American Cancer Society and the American Society of Clinical Pathology all agree that annual Pap smears are not necessary for routine survellience. The new 2012 recommendations were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine this March.
This does not diminish the importance of testing. Since Dr. Georgio Papanicolaou's test starting being promoted in 1945 it has become the most widely used and most effective tool for cancer screening ever. But time and research has shown that there definitely is too much of a good thing. Annual screening has led to unnecessary procedures, pain and whacking and hacking away at young cervices that would have otherwise been fine. It was all done with good intentions. But we know better now.
Your health care provider may have specific reasons for individualizing your screening intervals so make sure you understand when and why. Otherwise, follow the dos and dont's below to get the most bang for your buck. This list is updated with these newest recommendations
DON'T confuse a Pap smear with a pelvic exam. You still need to go in for annual check ups to make sure your reproductive system is healthy, monitor effect of birth control pills or other contraception and get other testing for sexually transmitted infections. Whether you are a teen, a young mom or menopausal there are plenty of good reasons to make that annual trek in to the OB/GYN office.
DO ask your care provider if routine Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) testing is done with your Pap smear. Many places only do testing reflexively. That means that they will test for HPV only when the test shows some slightly abnormal cells. Many experts do not yet believe that HPV testing is worthwhile for everyone but this may change since the new recommendations state that Pap testing may only need to be done every 5 years after age 30 with negative HPV screening. Not doing it isn't a bad thing, just find out if they do it.
DON'T douche, use a tampon, have sex, use vaginal medications or generally put anything in your vagina for 2 days before a scheduled Pap smear. Any of this can alter the results. Just woman-up and don't.
DO get a Pap every 3 years between ages 21 and 65 The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which causes most cervical abnormalities and cancers is slow growing but can be lethal over time. The new recommendations are based on the latest studies which show that the 3-5 year interval is safe and adequate but going longer than that may not be.
DON'T get a Pap until age 21, even if you are sexually active. If you are exposed to HPV (and you will be if you have sex) your young immune system will most likely easily fight it off. No Paps, no unnecessary testing and worrying. Just be sure to get your pelvic exams and testing for other sexually transmitted infections. And no, condoms will not protect you from HPV.
DO get the recommended every 3 year Pap even if your have had the HPV vaccine. It only protects against a few strains of HPV and there are hundreds.
DON'T get a Pap if you have had a complete hysterectomy for reason other than cancer. You do not have a cervix. A Pap is for cervical testing. You don't need it. If you are getting one, please ask why. If you don't know if you have a cervix or not, ask that too.
DON'T get a Pap after age 65. If you have had normal Paps for 20 years and have slept with the same man for that whole time. Really, you don't need it done. If you have yourself a new boyfriend, that's another story. Get checked and congratulations.