pap smear

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.

RELATED: At What Age Should I Get My First Mammogram?

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Pap Smear: 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).

About UPMC

A $21 billion health care provider and insurer, Pittsburgh-based UPMC is inventing new models of patient-centered, cost-effective, accountable care. The largest nongovernmental employer in Pennsylvania, UPMC integrates more than 90,000 employees, 40 hospitals, 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient sites, and a 3.8 million-member Insurance Services Division, the largest medical insurer in western Pennsylvania. In the most recent fiscal year, UPMC contributed $1.4 billion in benefits to its communities, including more care to the region’s most vulnerable citizens than any other health care institution, and paid more than $500 million in federal, state, and local taxes. Working in close collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, UPMC shares its clinical, managerial, and technological skills worldwide through its innovation and commercialization arm, UPMC Enterprises, and through UPMC International. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside on its annual Honor Roll of America’s Best Hospitals and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. For more information, go to