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Women are encouraged to start getting yearly Pap smears at the age of 21 or within 3 years of becoming sexually active. Pap smears are not diagnostic tests, but they are screening tools used to find any abnormal cells or dysplasia in the cervix. When women are faithful in having regular Pap smears, they increase their chances for early detection and treatment of any potential problems.
What could cause an abnormal pap smear result?
- An infection or an inflammation
- Recent sexual activity
- HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) This is also called genital warts (up to 60% of women may carry this virus on their cervix, genital area, or skin and are completely unaware of it).
- Dysplasia (abnormal cells that can be pre-cancerous)
The new guidelines call for routine paps to begin at age 21. Previously, it was recommended that women get their first cervical cancer screening within three years of first having sex or at age 21.
The new guidelines also recommend women 30 and older should wait three years between pap smears once they’ve had three consecutive clear tests, and that women 65 to 70 should stop having paps entirely if they’ve had no abnormal test results in the last 10 years.
Remember, these are just guidelines. So, be sure to ask your doctor what the recommendation for you is on repeat pap smear screening.