The answer to how often you should get a pap smear depends on your age, medical history, and personal history. As a basic rule of thumb, if you are a woman who is sexually active or over the age of 18, you need to get one every one to three years. There may be circumstances that require more frequent testing, or situations in which women do not need to get pap smears any more, and you should discuss the issue with your primary care provider or gynecologist to get a recommendation based on your history.
The Papanocolau test, known as the pap test or pap smear for short, is a test that checks for abnormal cell development around the cervix. It is performed by taking a sample of cervical tissue and examining it under a microscope. Cervical cancer is one of the most common gynecological cancers, and it kills thousands of women every year, especially in nations where pap smears are not a part of routine health care for women. Regular testing contributes to early detection, ensuring that abnormal cell growth is caught quickly.
Most authorities recommend that pap smears should start at age 18 or whenever a woman becomes sexually active, and that they should continue until the age of 65 or 70. If you are between 18 and 30, you should get a pap smear every year. Women over the age of 30 may be able to have them every two to three years if they are in a monogamous relationship with the same partner and they have had normal pap test results for at least the last three tests.
When women turn 65 to 70 without abnormal pap results, most healthcare professionals believe that they no longer need pap smears. Likewise, women who have had hysterectomies generally do not need them after two to three years of normal test results, since their cervixes have been removed. Annual pelvic exams are still strongly recommended in all of these cases, however.
If a woman has a series of abnormal results, she may be asked to get a pap smear every six months so that her healthcare provider can keep a close eye on the situation. Some abnormal results are ambiguous, making it hard to tell if there's a problem without a repeat test. In cases where portions of the cervix are removed in response to abnormal pap results, it is critical to get a test at least once a year to check for the recurrence of abnormal cell growth.