Does Every Woman Need a Pap Smear?
It is advised for women to begin receiving regular Pap smears starting at 21 years of age. These tests usually occur every 3 years, but some individuals will likely be asked to perform Pap smears more often based on certain risk factors such as:
- A prior diagnosis of cervical cancer or a related precancerous condition of the cervix
- Confirmed cases of an HIV infection
- Those with a weakened immune system, usually due to chemotherapy, frequent use of corticosteroids, or an organ transplant
- A history of smoking
Some women also prefer to complete Pap smears more often than every 3 years for reassurance regarding their health, though this is not necessary. It will be your responsibility to communicate to your doctor about what is best for you moving forward with Pap smear testing.
There are a few situations in which regular Pap smears will no longer be recommended for certain women. These cases include women who have undergone a hysterectomy that was performed for a noncancerous condition, as well as women who are over the age of 65.
Women within this older age range are usually exempt from Pap smears if they have received them regularly throughout their lifetime and have never had one of these tests come back with positive results for cancer. However, you should absolutely discuss other potential risk factors with your doctor before suddenly stopping your recommended Pap smears.
How it Works
There really is not much that goes into preparing for a Pap smear, though it is advised to avoid scheduling your test during your menstrual cycle, in addition to avoiding having intercourse or using any substances that may enter the vagina (jellies, douches, etc.). All of these activities are best to refrain from because they may alter the cells of the cervix, which could lead to incorrect Pap smear results.
The entire procedure will take place in your doctor’s office. It will begin by laying down on your back with your feet rested in stirrups. Once in position, your doctor will use a speculum to open the vaginal walls and insert a spatula to gather cells from the cervix.
After a sample has been collected, these cells are taken to a lab to be reviewed for signs of cancerous activity. It typically takes a couple of days to determine the results of the Pap smear, but the exact time frame will vary.