Women no longer need to dread their annual pelvic exam! According to the American College of Physicians, a pelvic exam and a pap smear aren’t necessary to have every year. So what changed and is this the safest decision for women?
To better understand why it’s not necessary to have an annual pap smear, it’s important to know exactly what the doctor is looking for during the exam. A pap test checks the cervix, the lower part of the uterus, for abnormal cell changes. Cells can change and, if they aren’t detected and treated, it can lead to cervical cancer.
If pap smears can help detect cancer, why are physicians finding that they aren’t necessary to have annually? Here are a few reasons annual pelvic exams and pap smears aren’t required every year:
- There are too many false positives – Frequent screening leads to more frequent need for follow up tests that can be invasive and have unwanted side effects, including problems related to future pregnancies and delivery, as well as increased anxiety and time away from work or home.
- Screening every three years is perfectly safe – Studies show that screening every three years is adequate for early detection.
- Women are getting pap smears too young – Women under the age of 21 shouldn’t be getting a pap smear because it increases the odds of false positives even more. At the age of 21, women should get their first pap smear and talk to their physician about what they suggest about pelvic exams in the future.
Here are the recommendations for women who are at an average risk for cervical cancer:
- Under the age of 21: No pap smear necessary
- 21 to 29: Pap smear required once every three years
- 30 to 65: Pap smear required every three years or a combination of a Pap smear and HPV test every five years.
- More than 65: No pap smear necessary if all recent screenings have been normal
Please note that it’s still important to see your OBGYN more than once every three years for proper preventive care and for questions about women’s health.