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How Often Do I Need to Get a Pap Smear?

By Fitoru | 28 August 2018
blackboard saying time for a pap smear

Cervical cancer is a deadly disease, made more treacherous by the frequent lack of symptoms. While some women with this condition experience pain or abnormal bleeding, many don’t realize they’re sick until the disease has already spread. According to estimates by the American Cancer Society, in 2018, 13,240 women will be diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer, and 4,170 will die from the disease. While the numbers surrounding this illness are grim, the good news is that women can take steps to protect their health. A Pap test, or Pap smear, remains the best way to check for cervical cancer cells, provided that you are diligent about being tested.

Read on to discover how often you need to get a Pap smear and why the recommended testing schedule may be changing.
What Is a Pap Smear and Why Do I Need One?

Named after George Papanicolaou, the doctor who created it, a Pap test examines the cervix for cancerous and precancerous cells. During the assessment, a doctor inserts a metal or plastic speculum into the vagina and takes a sample of cervical cells using a swab. The test isn’t painful, though women may experience pressure. The cells are then sent to a lab and tested for signs of cancer. Additionally, a Pap smear can find abnormal cells so they can be treated before turning cancerous. In this sense, undergoing Pap tests regularly is one of the best ways to prevent cervical cancer from developing.

How Often Do I Need to Get a Pap Smear?
Pap Smear Testing

If you’re between 21 and 65, then you likely need to undergo Pap testing as part of a preventative healthcare routine. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, it’s important to be tested even if you are not sexually active. While the STI known as HPV (human papillomavirus) is a common cause of cervical cancer, women can and do develop the disease from other causes. If you have gone through menopause but are younger than 65, you should still undergo regular Pap testing to preserve your health.

pap smear
Importance of Pap Smear Testing

While past recommendations dictated that women undergo Pap tests on an annual basis, new research suggests that less frequent testing may be appropriate. According to the Department of Health, most women in the US should adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Undergo Pap testing every 3 years between ages 21 and 29
  • Undergo Pap testing every 3 years between 30 and 64 and HPV testing every 5 years

It’s generally considered safe to stop testing if you:

  • Don’t have a cervix due to a hysterectomy or other cause
  • Are over 65 and have had three normal Pap tests in a row, following a decade of tests without abnormal cell findings.

Additionally, certain health factors may affect how often women need Pap smears. Individuals with immune systems that are weakened due to chemotherapy or steroid use will likely require more frequent testing. Additionally, women with a history of cervical cancer and those who are HIV positive may need extra testing. Talk to your doctor before making any decisions that could affect your long-term health.

Read more articles about health and wellness here


  1. I am very upset that women over the age of 65 will most likely not be covered anymore if they insist on a pap smear.

    While I understand the guidelines, to suggest that you are going to be safe if you have had normal pap smeras over the past 10 years? Who thought that up?

    If you ask me, the insurance companies are gleefully rubbing their hands together and dancing around the fire, saying yeah, we don’t have to cover them, and by the time we do, cancer will have spread throughout their bodies, so it won’t be long before they expire, insuring that we won’t have that lengthy cancer bill to pay. Just the small portion before they die.

    I am appalled.

    What next? No Mammograms until you are certain you feel a lump? Great. My best friend’s daughter died of breast cancer at 34 after being turned away for her request for a mammogram 2 or 3 times, until such time it was too late. Was so sad. She let a husband a 2 year old daughter. As her doctor said more than once “you are just being nervous, you are too young to have breast cancer.”

    I guess we will now have to wait until it is too late before getting a mammogram, just like a paper smear.

    As the article stated, because of pap smears, death from cervical cancers have GONE DOWN BY 80%.


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