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How Often Do Women Need to Be Screened for Cervical Cancer?

Your Local Health | Written by BJ Towe

Upon learning that the recommended frequency of Pap screenings — the best way to prevent cervical cancer — changed in 2012 to only once every three years, many women feel a sense of relief. But not so fast: The annual pelvic exam is still essential to women's health. Here's why:

“The Pap smear screens for cervical cancer. It does nothing else,” says Perry Osborn, D.O., who specializes in Obstetrics & Gynecology with The Iowa Clinic. “The pelvic exam is a completely separate exam. It's the doctor's opportunity to pick up other conditions and disease processes.”

That said, data shows that less frequent Pap smears are more accurate than annual ones. Additionally, co-testing for HPV (human papillomavirus) is now recommended, and it's covered by most insurance companies.

Dr. Osborn says, “Previously, the recommendation for cervical screening was one-size-fits-all. The newer recommendations focus on individualizing treatment based on a patient's age and health history.

Based on scientific evidence – and if there are no other health issues or risk factors present – the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends:

Current Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines

Age Recommendations:

  • < 21 Pap smear and HPV test are not recommended.
  • 21−29 Pap smear every 3 years. HPV test is not recommended.
  • 30−65 Pap smear every 3 years, or; PREFERRED METHOD — Pap smear with HPV every 5 years (even if you had had the HPV vaccine).
  • > 65 Pap smear is not recommended.

Hysterectomy patients, regardless of age: For patients whose cervixes have been removed, Pap smears are no longer needed.

Schedule your Pap smear today, visit The Iowa Clinic Obstetrics & Gynecology Department or call 515.875.9290.

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