New guidelines call for less-frequent Pap tests

How often should you have a Pap test? Many women used to schedule one annually, but gynecologists now recommend tests every two years for women in their 20s and every three years after age 30, as long as they have had three consecutive normal Pap results.

“Pap tests every two years are as sensitive as annual Paps for detecting precancers and early cancers of the cervix,” says Dr. Claudia Werner, an obstetrics and gynecology expert at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Pap tests and pelvic exams provide a screening for cervical cancer and also can help detect any abnormalities in the reproductive system. Although the Pap test interval can be safely extended, an annual well-woman exam addresses other issues and still is recommended.

Another guideline change from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is that healthy women younger than 21 no longer need Pap screening – even if they are sexually active. It is extremely rare for younger women to have cervical cancer, Dr. Werner said, and a higher number of abnormal results on their Pap tests lead to unnecessary evaluations and treatments. 

Visit to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services for gynecology.

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