A Pap smear removes cells from the cervix by gentle rubbing with a brush that are then sent to the laboratory to detect precancerous changes on the cervix. It can also be used to check for the high risk HPV virus that has been associated with cervical cancer. It is a routine part of a pelvic exam and leads to no more discomfort than when the doctor is looking at your cervix with the speculum alone. Current recommendations as to when to start doing Pap smears and how frequent Pap smears are done, as well as when to stop doing Pap smears have undergone dramatic changes over the last several years. The current guidelines are as follows and this assumes that your Pap smears have been normal. If you have had abnormal Pap smears then your doctor may recommend a different interval for checking them.
Start doing Pap smears at age 21
From age 21-30 every 3 years with Pap smear alone
From age 30-65 every 5 years with Pap smear and high risk HPV screen or every 3 years with Pap smear alone
Stop after age 65 with no history of abnormal Pap smears
Stop after a hysterectomy for reasons other than an abnormal Pap smear, such as fibroids, endometriosis or heavy bleeding
These are general recommendations and your doctor may recommend something different based upon your specific case.
You still must continue with annual exams even though you’re not having a Pap smear to detect other abnormalities such as breast disease or other pelvic pathology.
For further information visit the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists web site on Pap Smears.