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How Often Should You Have a Pap Smear?

Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines

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Updated April 30, 2009

The frequency in which women get Pap smears is not the same for everyone. While one woman may need an annual Pap smear, another woman may only need a Pap smear every three years. How often a woman needs a Pap smear depends on several factors, like age, general health, and findings from previous Pap smears.

When to Have Your First Pap Smear

The American Cancer Society recommends that women have their first Pap smear about three years after they become sexually active or by age 21, whichever comes first. Subsequent Pap smears should occur every two years thereafter with a liquid based Pap test or annually with a conventional test.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend women have an annual Pap until age 30.

If you are well over twenty one and you have never had a Pap smear, it is not too late to have start having regular screenings. Having a regular Pap smear may considerably reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer.

Thirty and Over

Unless recommended by a physician, continue screenings annually or every two to three years. Women who have had previous abnormal Pap smears, infected with HPV, or at high risk for cervical cancer may need to be screened more frequently.

At age 30, women have the option of having an HPV test along with their Pap smear. The HPV test identifies women who are infected with high risk strains of HPV that could lead to cervical cancer, if left unmonitored or untreated.

Age Sixty-Five and Over

At age 65 to 70, women who have had no abnormal Pap smears within the last 10 years may discontinue having regular Pap smears. This is a decision that has to be made with a physician or other clinician. For women who have a previous history of cervical cancer, abnormal Pap smears, or are at high risk for developing cervical cancer, should continue having regular screenings.
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