You’ve probably heard that healthy women no longer need annual Pap tests, or smear, but what about that yearly visit to the ob-gyn? While new guidelines suggest that not all women will need a Pap smear, it’s still very important for women to schedule their routine, annual pelvic exam. Keep in mind that a pelvic exam is so much more than just a Pap smear with regard to a woman’s health.
In recently updated guidelines, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women continue their annual “well woman” visits. That visit should include a pelvic exam — even if it does not include a Pap test, for cervical cancer, the group says.
Richard S. Guido, MD, a gynecologist at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, says the annual exam is essential to good health care. “There are a lot of good reasons for a woman to see her ob-gyn every through each cycle of her life,” he says.
Annual visits go far beyond the Pap test, he says. Your doctor will check your blood pressure and weight, screen for sexually transmitted infections, counsel on healthy living, address reproductive and gynecological issues, check your uterus and ovaries, as well as perform a breast exam. It’s also an opportunity for you to ask questions about sexual activity and other issues.
A Vital Screening Tool
The Pap test remains a vital screening tool, says Dr. Guido. It looks for precancerous cell changes on the cervix that can be treated to prevent cervical cancer. The test also can find cervical cancer early when treatment is most effective.
So, how often should you get a Pap test? Here are the current ACOG guidelines for low-risk women:
- Under 21: No Pap test necessary, regardless of sexual activity.
- Age 21-29: Pap test every three years.
- Age 30-65: Pap test every three years, or a Pap test every five years if it is combined with the HPV test for the human papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer. Women who have received the HPV vaccine still need regular cervical screening.
- Over 65: No test if there has been adequate prior normal screening.
Women who are HIV positive, or who have been treated for a precancerous cervical lesion or cervical cancer, may need to have more frequent screenings, or continue screening beyond age 65.
Women who have had a hysterectomy do not need to have a Pap test, unless the surgery was done to treat a precancerous cervical lesion or cervical cancer.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with a gynecologist near you, call 1-866-MyMagee (696-2433).