PAP smear tests are recommended every one to three years for people with uteruses ages 21 to 65. PAP smears help detect abnormal or unhealthy cells in one’s cervix, which could indicate cervical cancer. A recent update from the American Cancer Society is changing those requirements. On July 30 in the publication “CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians,” the American Cancer Society released updated requirements for cervical cancer screenings with new cervical cancer testing guidelines. Previously, people with cervixes would get a PAP smear every one to three years starting at age 21. An HPV test would be added as well once the patient is 30, and the PAP and HPV test would be done every one to three years until the patient is 65. The new recommendation is now phasing out PAP tests and simply testing for HPV every five years in patients ages 25-65.
Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted disease. Most people will have HPV at some point in their lifetime, and most cases of HPV are so mild that you won’t even know you’ve had it. Most cases also go away on their own. In some cases, however, HPV can develop into cervical cancer. These new recommendations suggest that testing specifically for HPV every five years will be a stronger way to detect cervical cancer than PAPs every three years. After a PAP test is done, if there are any abnormal cells in your cervix, an HPV test is ordered. These new recommendations would eliminate the PAP and just test for HPV right away.
The American Cancer Society says testing just for HPV every five years is a good idea due to the popularity of the HPV vaccine. Both boys and girls receive the vaccine now starting at age 11, greatly reducing the number of HPV cases. They also recommend starting HPV testing at age 25 because cervical cancer is incredibly rare in people under that age. The report said that the goal is to eventually phase out PAP smears altogether.
I’m not a doctor, but I do wonder if no longer having any PAP smears is a good idea. The PAP smear detects unhealthy cells in your cervix. Although HPV tests screen for cervical cancer, I wonder, what if you have unhealthy cells that aren’t due to HPV. How would that be detected then? Obviously this new requirement was done after much research and consideration, and like I said, I’m not a doctor, just curious.
I encourage you to ask your gynecologist about this new requirement in testing during your next visit. It’s important to be informed on your sexual health and know why procedures are changing and how that affects you. Regardless of the new requirements, it is important to start seeing your gynecologist for cervical health screenings regularly. The previous guidelines state starting at age 21 or once you become sexually active. Call your gynecologist and ask about the new HPV testing, or simply wait until your next scheduled appointment and chat about it then.
It’s incredibly important to stay on top of your sexual health and visit your gynecologist regularly. As I mentioned, HPV is very common and goes away in most cases, but just in case, it is super important to get tested regularly, whether that be according to the old guidelines or the new.