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Pregnancy & ChildbirthWellness & PreventionTreatment & Care

Pap Tests

Regular pelvic exams including Pap tests are suggested as part of your GYN checkup. Woman's gynecologists offer this service in a comfortable, convenient location. The gynecologic cancer care team at Woman’s Hospital specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers specific to women.

The Cary Dougherty Cancer Detection Laboratory is a full-service laboratory and cancer detection lab that  supports all hospital services but specializes in obstetrics/gynecology and neonatology. It is one of the most respected in the nation, having processed more than one million Pap tests since its formation in 1958. An advanced state-of-the-art system for examining Pap smears, offered at Woman’s Hospital, enhances an already proven procedure in the fight against cervical cancer.

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Benefits of the Pap Test

“Knowing that the Pap test works is important for women wanting to reduce their own personal risk of cervical cancer,” says Giles Fort, MD, a board-certified gynecologic oncologist and Director of Gynecologic Oncology at Woman’s Hospital.

Fort emphasizes that when looking at these guidelines, it is important to recognize that a yearly checkup offers the most benefits. “During an annual physical, a woman’s doctor can determine if a new risk factor for cervical cancer has been found. The doctor then can suggest a Pap smear be done even though the woman might have a negative screening history,” he explains.

Fort adds that a doctor is in the best situation to make a decision for each individual woman. Ultimately, for women wanting to stay healthy, a key component in the fight to end cervical cancer begins with an annual physical exam.

Pap Test Guidelines

When should a woman have her first Pap test (cervical cancer screening)? A woman should have her first Pap test approximately three years after she begins having vaginal intercourse but no later than 21 years of age. Part of putting you at ease is helping you know what to expect.

How often should a woman have a Pap test? Cervical screening should be done every year with conventional Pap tests or every two years using a liquid-based Pap test. (The difference between conventional Pap tests and liquid-based Pap tests is the way in which the specimen is saved once it is collected from the cervix: in a conventional test, the specimen is “smeared” onto a glass slide; in liquid-based tests, the specimen is put into a special liquid preservative.)

Are there exceptions to having a Pap test every year? At or after the age of 30, women who have had three normal test results in a row may be screened every two to three years. However, a doctor may suggest getting the test more often if a woman has certain risk factors, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or a weakened immune system.

Is there an age at which a woman can stop having a Pap test? Women who are 70 years of age or older and have had three or more normal Pap tests and no abnormal test results in the past 10 years may choose to stop cervical cancer screenings. However, screening continues to be recommended for women who have not previously been screened, women for whom information about previous screening is unavailable and women for whom past screening is unlikely.

Screening after a total hysterectomy (with removal of the cervix) is not necessary unless the surgery was done as a treatment for cervical cancer or a precancerous condition. However, women who have undergone a hysterectomy without the removal of the cervix should continue cervical cancer screening until at least the age of 70.