Pap smears are tests that screen for precancerous and cancerous changes of the cervix.
Abnormal pap smears are caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is spread by sexual contact but is the “common cold” of sexually transmitted infections. Over 80% of women will test positive for HPV at some point during their lifetime and the infection can be from any partner in her lifetime. There is no remedy for HPV; but your immune system will work to suppress the virus. Therefore there will be times when there is no physical evidence of the virus.
Co-testing is when your doctor does a routine pap smear but also tests you for the HPV virus. If both pap and HPV test are normal, the likelihood of abnormal pap smears is much less over the next 4-6 years. Women under the age of 30 should not get HPV testing as infection is common and frequently resolves.
To find out if HPV testing is covered by your insurance, you can call your insurance provider and give them the following information.
Studies have shown there is no real advantage to yearly paps over every 3 years. More frequent pap smears are more likely to result in more procedures and tests that are unnecessary. However, annual examinations with your doctor is still recommended.
No, you still need to be seen every year. Your annual gynecologic exam is not just for cervical cancer screening. It is important for all aspects of your health including contraception, pregnancy planning, breast problems, period problems etc.
If you have had a hysterectomy, you may still need cervical cancer screening with pap smears. You will need to talk with your doctor whether you still need to have pap smears.
Most abnormal pap smears are followed by a colposcopy. A colposcopy is an office procedure where we take a closer look at the cervix with a microscope and typically take a few biopsies. Based on these results, you may need further treatment but most often, you just need to follow up for more frequent pap smears. Your doctor will determine the best treatment course for you.