Can You Go 5 Years Between Pap Tests?

New guidelines change the frequency of this important test

Woman in exam room

Yes, ladies, it is true! You can safely space out pap tests (a collection of cells taken at the time of a periodic pelvic exam). The U.S. Preventive Health task force recently released new pap test guidelines.

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We start pap tests at age 21 and obtain them every three years. At age 30, if you also have a normal pap and a negative HPV test, you can space them out to every 5 years. If results are normal your whole adult life, you may stop at age 65. So in normal women with no risks and no abnormalities, that may mean only 11 pap smears in your lifetime. Before you start celebrating, though, that still does not exempt you from seeing your physician yearly and getting periodic breast and pelvic exams, yearly weights, blood pressures and other important health screening tests.

If you are a DES daughter, are HIV positive, or have high-risk HPV or precancerous changes on pap tests, then the above screening guidelines do not apply to you.  If you are a young woman and have received one of the two HPV vaccines that are available in a series of three injections, you still should be screened in the same manner as other women, even though you are at reduced risk for becoming infected with one of the high risk strains of HPV that causes cervical cancer.

For years, we have been performing the HPV DNA test with pap test every three years for women who are age 30 or older and low risk. Now that we are increasing that interval up to 5 years, I know that many women will view these new guidelines suspiciously; however, you should not because we now have improved knowledge and improved techniques and now fully understand the cause of cervical cancer. This is really excellent news and will allow you and your health care professional to focus on more than just your cervix at your annual visit.

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Originally posted on Speaking of Women’s Health.

Speaking of Women’s Health


Holly L. Thacker, MD

Holly L. Thacker, MD, Director of the Center for Specialized Women's Health and Executive Director of Speaking of Women’s Health, is nationally known for her leadership in women's health.
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