How Often Should I Get a Pap Smear?

Jul 04, 2023
How Often Should I Get a Pap Smear?
Pap smears are an important part of a woman’s wellness check, but when do you need one, and does the frequency of these tests change over time? Read on to get answers.

From the time you start going through puberty, the biological changes your hormones have on your growth and sexual maturity mean starting to make regular visits to your doctor about important issues regarding your reproductive health. 

For women, this means regular wellness checks to stay ahead of concerns regarding contraception, menstrual cycles, and other uniquely feminine issues.

If you live in the Chicago, Illinois, area, and you need a pap smear or have other concerns about your reproductive health, the team of medical professionals at Michigan Avenue Primary Care includes doctors that specialize in attending to your needs.

Pap smears, also known as pap tests, are an important part of your wellness check, but not everyone needs to have them at the same frequency as needs change over time. To explore what this means for you, let’s look at why it’s important to get pap smears, how the process works, and how often you should have a pap smear.

The importance of a pap smear

Your cervix is the narrow opening that connects your uterus and vagina and is how sperm travels into your uterus. It’s very important in the function of your monthly cycle, fertility, pregnancy, vaginal delivery, and protection of your uterus. 

Your cervix is composed of two parts: the endocervix and the ectocervix. The endocervix is the innermost section and contains column-like cells responsible for mucus secretion. The ectocervix is the portion that protrudes into your vagina and contains squamous cells. 

The point in your cervix where these cells meet is the most common place where cervical cancer starts to develop into precancerous cells. Pap smears are designed to examine your cervix for abnormal cells that could indicate cancer cells and human papillomavirus (HPV).

How a pap smear works

The process of getting cells from your cervix is a short one, but will no doubt feel a bit embarrassing. You start by lying face up on an exam table with your knees bent and heels resting in stirrups with no clothes from your waist down. 

Next, we gently insert a speculum to hold your vaginal walls apart so we can see your cervix. Finally, in what is generally a painless procedure, we remove cells from your cervix using a soft brush and spatula. Afterward, you can resume your day, and your cells are examined in a lab. You will be contacted by your doctor with your results.

How frequently you should get a pap smear

Several factors affect how often you should get this screening, including age, HIV status, medical history, and whether or not your immune system is compromised. The American Cancer Society recommends you start getting these screenings around 25 years of age, and women between 25-65 should get them every five years. 

However, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) lays out the following guidelines:

  • Below 21: not generally recommended
  • Ages 21-29: every three years
  • Ages 30-65: every three years, with HPV tests (or co-tests) every five years
  • Ages 65 and above: not generally recommended, only as needs arise

We approach your screenings based on your needs, but if you show no abnormalities, every five years is more likely.

Pap smears are vital to screen for cervical cancer, HPV, and other abnormalities as well as to make preventative treatment easier and keep you healthy longer. If you’re due for a screening, make an appointment with our team at Michigan Avenue Primary Care today. Call our office or schedule your visit online anytime.