How often you should get a Pap smear depends on your age and your risk of developing cervical cancer. All people with a cervix should be getting pap smears. This includes people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, or intersex.
The goal of a pap smear test is to catch cervical cancer early. Cervical cancer generally grows slowly and so screening does not need to happen annually for low-risk patients. For high risk patients, such as patients with HIV or who are taking immunosuppressive drugs for organ transplants, it should happen every year.
Frequency of Testing
Testing typically starts at age 21 and continues to age 65. From age 21 to 29, you should get a Pap smear every 3 years.
From age 30 to 65, you should get Pap smear and human papilloma virus (HPV) test every 5 years. An HPV test is a special test done on the same specimen from the pap smear. People with a cervix who test negative for HPV have a lower risk of developing invasive cervical cancer over the next 5 years than people with a positive test. If you cannot get an HPV test with your Pap smear then you will need a Pap smear every 3 years.
Some patients may need pap smears and HPV tests more often, like every year. This includes patients who have HIV, those who are taking specific medications that suppress the immune system (patients who have organ transplants), and those who had an exposure to an old chemical called Diethylstilbestrol (DES) in the womb.
*If you are older than 65 years old, you no longer need these tests if you have had at least three consecutive negative Pap-only tests (or two consecutive negative Pap + HPV tests) in the past 10 years, with the most recent test performed in the last 5 years
Why Get Tested?
Since cervical cancer screening was started in the early 1900s, deaths from this cancer have gone down by more than half! This means more patients survive because the precancers are found and treated. Most cervix cancer happens in patients who missed screening! So, talk to your doctor and make sure you have your next Pap smear on schedule.
A Pap smear on time may save your life!