You’d be surprised at the number of women who don’t know that their Pap Test is just a part of the recommended Annual Exam, because cervical cancer is not the only health issues being examined. The recent change in guidelines for appropriate age, by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, adds to the confusion.
Planned Parenthood recommends an Annual Pelvic Exam for all women, from menstruation on. The pelvic exam may or may not include the Pap Test, which tests for cervical cancer screening. The rest of the pelvic exam is meant to check for the health of the reproductive organs, determine birth control devices if needed), check for vaginal infections or sexually transmitted infections (STI). The rest of the exam includes manual breast exams, cholesterol, blood sugar and thyroid. In addition, practitioners often discuss safe sexual behavior and risks, contraception options and healthier life styles.
The Annual exams, which include cervical cancer screening, are done in line with the age recommendation from the ACOG for frequency of Pap Tests:
• Young women do not need the cervical cancer screening until aged 21, no matter their sexual activity.
• Women 21-29 only need cervical cancer screening biannually.
• At age 30-64 women should have annual pap smears, as this is the most likely time to develop and detect cervical cancer. HOWEVER, if a woman has three normal Pap results in a row, she may reduce the cervical cancer screening to every two or three years. Women with compromised immune systems may need more FREQUENT exams.
• Patients who have undergone a total hysterectomy (cervix removed), need not get a Pap Smear. Those who have only undergone a subtotal hysterectomy (cervix remains), still need cervical cancer screenings.
• By age 70, with consistent normal Pap results and a decade of clear cancer, women can forgo the Pap Smears.
The guidelines changed for a few reasons: women who have never been sexually active, or in long term monogamous relationships with regular normal Pap Tests, are less likely to be exposed to Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and are not likely to contract cervical cancer. The shift from precancerous to cancerous cells takes about five to seven years, so the low risk women still may detect cancerous changes with the new guidelines, but not undergo unnecessary Pap Tests.
But every woman should still do her Annual Pelvic Exam. Planned Parenthood has provided these vital services for women, at an affordable rate, for more than 90 years through federal funding. Our health centers provide 36 percent of the Title X, America’s family planning funding, with only 21 percent of the funds in 11 percent fewer locations than other subsidized health centers…and the most efficiently.
1. ETR Associates, Your Pelvic Exam, Revised 2003.
3. Guttmacher Institute, National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, PPFA Annual Affiliate Financial Survey
For more info, contact Planned Parenthood Mar Monte at (775) 688-5555, or (775) 829-1122 or visit online at www.ppmarmonte.org.