How Often Should You Get a Pap Smear? We Asked an OBGYN

how often should you get a pap smear - A doctor in a set of pink scrubs holds a clear plastic speculum in their hands. They have green gloves on and a red stethoscope around their neck.
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If you can’t remember when you had your last pap smear, there’s a chance you might be due for another. So how often should you get a pap smear, exactly? We asked Dr. Margo Harrison, MD, OBGYN and Head of Medical Affairs at Julie and learned that the recommendation is to get a pap every three years if you are between the ages of 21 and 30, and every three to five years after that. Read on to find out more. 

What is a pap smear?

This one is pretty straightforward: A pap smear is a screen used by doctors to find changes in the cells of the cervix that could lead to cancer. Regular pap testing is recommended because it greatly increases the chances that cervical cancer is caught earlier—and the earlier it’s found, the better the prognosis.

How often should you get a pap smear?

Per the expert, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this—namely because how often women should get a pap smear depends on their age and gynecologic history. However, “a good rule of thumb is that women ages 21-29 should get a pap test every three years [and] women older than that continue getting paps every three years or choose to space out testing,” says Dr. Harrison. Women under 21 do not need to get pap smears and women over age 30 should only wait five years between testing if the pap test is combined with HPV testing. It’s also worth noting that if you have had an abnormal pap result, your health care provider may suggest that you test more regularly. 

What to expect when you get a pap smear

If you’ve never had a pap test before, or it has been long enough that you’ve forgotten, you might be wondering what exactly it entails. Well, friends, the process is pretty quick (If not entirely painless). You’ll be asked to undress from the waist down and the doctor will put a speculum in the vagina in order to visualize the cervix and collect the sample using a brush. Dr. Harrison tells us that “both the speculum and the pap smear itself can be uncomfortable, but it should be more pressure than pain.”

When can you stop getting pap smears?

The good news is that you don’t have to continue getting pap smears forever. According to Dr. Harrison, “Women should stop having cervical cancer screening after age 65 if they do not have a history of abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer, and they have had either three negative pap test results in a row, two negative HPV tests in a row, or two negative co-test results (HPV and pap smear) in a row within the past ten years. The most recent test should have been performed in the last 3 - 5 years depending on the test.” Roger that.

What to do if you get an abnormal pap smear result

If you get an abnormal result from your pap test, don’t panic: “Many women have abnormal cervical cancer screening results and an abnormal result does not mean that you have cancer,” explains Dr. Harrison. That said, an abnormal result does mean that you will need to go back to the gynecologist for additional testing (and another look at your cervix) to determine next steps.

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