How often do I need a Pap smear?

I've always been told that I need a Pap smear every year. But now I'm hearing that every two years is o.k. Which is correct?

Regular Pap smears are very important to all women in order to detect cervical cancer. The Pap smear is one of the only cancer screening tests that's dramatically decreased deaths. In fact, most women who die of cervical cancer haven't had a Pap smear done for 5 years or more. When a Pap smear is done, cells are gently scraped from the cervix and put on a slide, which is then examined for abnormal cells. The Pap smear detects both cancerous cells as well as inflammation and atypical cells * that is, cells whose appearance is out of the ordinary. When abnormal cells are found, more tests may need to be done, and the Pap smear usually needs to be repeated sooner than if all had been o.k.

All women should start having annual Pap smears done when they're 18 or become sexually active. However, after 3 normal Pap smears in a row, they can be done less often. Pap smears every other year are still extremely sensitive at detecting cervical cancer, and cuts in half the chance of a false positive test. A false positive test is one that says something seems to be wrong, but in fact, there isn't. Since false positive tests can lead to unneeded procedures, less frequent tests are a good idea. Remember that if you do get an abnormal Pap, you must go back to annual exams until you've again had three normal ones in a row.

If you'd like more information about Pap smears and cervical cancer, visit

By Dr. Flash Gordon

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