By Karisa Son, NP-C

What is a pap smear?

  • A pap smear is a cancer screening test for cervical cancer. It examines the cervical cells for pre-cancerous or cancerous changes.
  • There is an additional test often included with the pap test, called the HPV test, which screens for the human papilloma virus which can cause cervical cancer.

Why do I need a pap smear?

  • Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women, and it is one of the most preventable cancers.
  • Before pap smears existed, cervical cancer was the leading cause of cancer related deaths in women.
  • Routine pap smears can provide prevention of, and early detection and treatment of cervical cancer.

Who should get a pap smear?

  • Women ages 21-29 should get a pap smear every 3 years.
  • Women ages 30-65 should get a pap smear with HPV co-testing every 5 years, or a pap smear without HPV testing every 3 years.
  • After age 65, you no longer need screening if you had 3 consecutive normal pap tests or 2 negative HPV tests within the past 10 years, with the most recent pap or HPV test being within the past 5 years.
  • Women younger than 21 do not need a pap smear, regardless of risk factors.
  • Please discuss the exact frequency of testing for yourself with your health care provider or gynecologist.

What if I don’t have a cervix anymore due to hysterectomy?

  • If you don’t have a cervix and the reason for hysterectomy was NOT due to cancer, you do not need a pap smear.

What if I’ve never been sexually active?

  • Your risk of cervical cancer is much lower than other women but still consider getting a pap smear.