A Pap smear is a screening tool used to evaluate the cervix for cervical cancer and abnormal, pre-cancerous cells referred to as cervical dysplasia. It is important to remember that a pap smear is only a screening tool, and an abnormal Pap smear usually requires more extensive evaluation with a colposcopy procedure for definitive diagnosis of dysplasia or cervical cancer.
The pathology results from the colposcopy then dictate necessary follow-up, including more frequent pap smears (usually at 6 month intervals) or an excisional procedure, like a LEEP or cold knife conization (CKC).
Current recommendations for pap smear screening include the following highlights:
- Pap smear screening should begin at age 21.
- Women who are 30 years of age or older AND have no recent history of moderate or severe cervical dysplasia, are candidates for Pap smear plus co-screen for high risk HPV (human papillomavirus). In this low-risk population, if the pap smear is normal and HPV is negative, Pap screening may be performed every 3 years. However, every woman still needs an annual gynecology exam to evaluate the vagina, cervix, uterus, ovaries and pelvis.
- Women who have no prior history of cervical dysplasia and have had a hysterectomy with removal of the cervix, do not need to continue Pap screening. However, every women, even if her uterus and cervix have been removed, still needs an annual gynecology exam to evaluate the vagina, ovaries and pelvis.