It’s been forever since we've been told that us girls require an annual pap smear, but I keep hearing from folks whose gynecologists only told them recently that they can skip a few years. Most of us only need screenings for cervical cancer every three to five years, and the pap smear is no longer the only option.
As of December 2017 this all changed.
How does cervical cancer screening work?
The whole point of that uncomfortable moment at the gynecologist’s office, where your legs are up in stirrups, is to screen for cervical cancer. Most cases of cervical cancer result from a long-term infection with a virus known as HPV.
Don’t panic — most people who are sexually active have been infected with HPV at some point without knowing it. Usually, your immune system clears out the infection, but occasionally, if the virus sticks around for many years, it can cause cells in your cervix (the place where your vagina meets your uterus) to become cancerous. There’s no cure for HPV, but regular screening can detect most cancers before they become a problem.
The Cervical Screening Test is more effective than the Pap Test at preventing cervical cancers due to being able to detect HPV (human papillomavirus). The Pap test only looked for cell changes in the cervix, the CST can pick up the cells that may already be infected outside the cervix.
- If you're between the ages of 18 to 25 you will have been vaccinated for HPV. Cervical cancer in women under the age of 25 is also very rare.
- If you're between the ages of 25 to 74 you should have a Cervical Screening Test two years after your last Pap test. If the results are normal then it will be five years until you need to take it again.
The previous recommendations, from 2012, used to require that every-five-years testing include cytology and an HPV test. The change for 2018 is just a small tweak: Providers can order the HPV test alone. That doesn’t mean the pap smear experience is going away — the only difference is what happens to the swab afterward.
Getting a test for HPV every five years offers the best chance of preventing cervical cancer. It is a quick and simple test, if you are due for testing contact your health provider to book an appointment. For more information about the National Cervical Screening Program call 13 15 56.