Let’s be real: There are many aspects of being a woman that are annoying and uncomfortable. And, of course, most of them have to do with our genitals and reproductive organs. We have to deal with menstruation, fun pregnancy symptoms, and worst of all, regular visits to our OBGYN to make sure everything is still alright “down there.”
Why Women Need Pap Smears
Pap smears are the only way to test women for cervical cancer. By collecting cells from within your cervix, doctors can not only tell if you may have cervical cancer, but they can also assess changes in your cervical cells that may be concerning.
According to The Mayo Clinic, doctors recommend all women ages 21 and over receive regular pap smears and pelvic exams from an OB GYN or primary care physician. These tests should continue until women hit menopause (around age 65) or receive a total hysterectomy.
Why Do We Need This Test Every Year?
Although the American Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists only recommends pap smears every 3 years for women over the age of 30, there are many reasons why you may want to continue the test annually with your doctor. During an interview with Everyday Health, Dr. Johnathan Lancaster stresses that “Pap smears can detect early precancerous changes on the cervix. [When detected,] these changes can be easily treated, thus dramatically reducing the risk of progression to cervical cancer.”
Furthermore, pap smear results aren’t failproof, so there’s always a chance your results may miss something. In fact, some studies suggest that the use of birth control pills or other medications can cause inaccurate pap smear results. As a result, annual exams will help you catch abnormalities sooner.
Of course, if you are at a higher risk for cervical cancer, have a weakened immune system, or smoke regularly, doctors recommend you receive annual pap smears since they are the best way to prevent the spread of cervical cancer as it can be detected in early stages.
Can I Skip A Year?
According to the doctors of Johns Hopkins Medicine, women over the age of 30 who combine human papillomavirus (HPV) test with their pap smear and who receive consistent negative results can extend their pap smears out a bit to every 3 to 5 years if needed. However, an annual gynecological exam is still recommended. On top of that, women who show precancerous cells on their cervix or test positive for HPV should definitely still consider annual pap smears with their checkups.
Although you can skip an exam every once in a while, the evidence is clear that yearly pap smears and exams are still the best way to prevent cervical cancer for most women. Sure, the whole process is uncomfortable, but those few minutes of discomfort are worth their weight in gold when it comes to cancer prevention and good health.
Previously Published on Moms.com