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How Often Do I Need a Pap Smear?

How Often Do I Need a Pap Smear?

A Pap smear is one of several tests that we use to screen for cancer of the cervix, a potentially fatal cancer that we can successfully prevent or treat if caught early.

How often you should receive a Pap smear depends on several factors, including your age and your health history.

We let you know during your yearly well-woman exam whether you need a Pap smear. But at Westover Hills Women’s Health, our doctors and certified nurse midwives believe you should understand why we make the recommendations we do. 

With that in mind, we would like to explain the guidelines for the timing of Pap smears. We invite you to read on to learn how often you may need a Pap smear.

About Pap smears

Before we talk about the frequency of Pap smears, let’s look at what they are.

A Pap smear is a test that looks for changes in the cells in your cervix that could eventually cause those cells to become cancerous. 

We use a small brush to gently remove some cells from your cervix. We send those cells to a laboratory, where they are examined for abnormalities. 

You don’t need a Pap smear every year because cervical abnormalities tend to develop slowly. It takes 3-7 years for pre-cancerous changes in the cells of your cervix to develop into cancer. Treatment during that time can prevent cancer from developing.

Very effective cancer protection

Cervical cancer screening is a safe, effective way to reduce cancer deaths. During the past 30 years in the United States, cervical cancer cases and deaths have decreased by about half. Researchers point to cervical cancer screening tests, such as Pap smears, as the main reason for this decrease.

Removing the pre-cancers uncovered by a Pap smear can prevent cervical cancer from developing in 95% of cases.

Pap smear timelines

Most women don’t need a Pap smear every year. Sometimes, Pap smears are replaced by or combined with testing for human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus that can cause cervical cancer.

Here is the recommended schedule for Pap smears:

Special cases

These are general guidelines. You may benefit from more frequent Pap smears, or other types of cervical cancer screening, if you have a history of cervical cancer or if you have received abnormal cervical screening test results in the past. 

We work with you to create a personalized screening schedule that best suits your health needs. 

To schedule a well-woman visit, a Pap smear, HPV testing, or any other screening or care, we invite you to call us today or use our online tool to book an appointment at one of our two San Antonio, Texas, offices.

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