Importance of Pap tests
Nancy Staples is a family nurse practitioner, at Banner Health Clinic in Fort Morgan, Colo.
Question: Why is the Pap test important and how often should I have it?
Answer: Some women tend to take this important and powerful test for granted. The Pap test not only can detect cervical cancer, but it can find abnormal cells that may lead to cancer, allowing cancer to be stopped before it starts. The Pap test also can detect noncancerous conditions, such as infection and inflammation.
How frequently you should have a Pap test depends on your age, lifestyle and health as well as the advice you receive from your physician. In general, it’s recommended that:
- Women have their first Pap test at age 21—or three years after sexual initiation—and then yearly. After age 30-35 yearly testing may not be necessary and you should discuss the frequency of testing with your primary care provider.
- Teenage girls who are sexually active should make an appointment with their primary care provider to discuss testing.
• Women who have not had a hysterectomy may discontinue regular Pap tests at age 70 if they have had three consecutive normal/negative Pap tests and have had no abnormal Pap tests in the previous 10 years.
- Women who have had a hysterectomy, and had their cervix removed, no longer need a Pap test. However, your physician may recommend testing if the hysterectomy was related to cervical cancer or its pre-cancerous conditions.
- Remember that Pap testing doesn’t equal annual well women exam. Women need to continue having these exams yearly.
The Pap test is an important cancer prevention tool. It detects abnormalities in the cells of the cervix long before they become cancerous. This allows your doctor to eliminate the abnormal cells before cancer can begin. Thanks to the Pap test, the number of women who get cervical cancer has declined significantly over the past 40 years.