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How Often Should Women Do Cervical Smear Test?

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How Often Should Women Do Cervical Smear Test?

A 2014 report[1] from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that 8 million women are not getting screened for cervical cancer. This is dangerous since getting screened for cervical cancer can save someone’s life. The American Cancer Society[2] had made an estimate that for the year 2016, “about 12,990 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed and about 4,120 women will die from cervical cancer.” According to the same CDC report, most “cervical cancers could be prevented by screening.”

So how often and when should women get a cervical smear test?

Annual screening is often unnecessary. Every few years is enough.

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Here are the recommendations from the American Cancer Society:[3]

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  • Cervical cancer screening should start at age 21.
  • Every 3 years, women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap test. It is not recommended to test for HPV unless there are abnormal findings from the Pap test.
  • A Pap test and HPV test should be done every 5 years for women between the 30 and 65. But a Pap test alone every 3 years can also be done.
  • If a woman that is over 65 had normal results from regular screenings, they should not be screened for cervical cancer. But they should continue to be screened if they have been diagnosed with cervical pre-cancer.
  • Women who have undergone a hysterectomy and do not have a history of pre-cancer or revival cancer, do not need to be screened.
  • Even if a woman has had HPV vaccinations, recommendations for screenings should still be followed.
  • High-risk women (those with HIV infection, organ transplant, or exposure to the drug DES) may need more frequent screenings.

The American Cancer Society does not recommend a Pap test every year because it generally takes much longer than a year, about 10 to 20 years for the development of cervical cancer. Also, too frequent screening could lead to unnecessary procedures. Also, Philip Castle of the American Society for Clinical Pathology stated[4] that, “If you test every year you find a lot of benign infections that would go away on their own… You end up overscreening, overmanaging and overtreating women who are not actually at risk of getting cervical cancer.”

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Risks of not getting tested

Not getting cervical smear tests done when you are supposed to can pose a serious risk. A cervical smear test is one of the two tests[5] that help prevent cervical cancer. It looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix so that they can be treated early. If not treated early, these cell changes will become cervical cancer. The other one is HPV testing which looks for the virus that causes the cell changes.

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It’s a simple process

A pap or cervical smear test is pretty simple. It is not painful, but some women may feel uncomfortable. During the test, the nurse or doctor puts an instrument called a speculum while it is shut. Once put in, the doctor or nurse opens it and then a thin plastic stick with a small brush at the end to scrape some cells from the cervix. The cells are then sent to the laboratory for testing.[6]

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Reference

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Sarah Bonander

Writer, Human Resources Professional

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