In March of 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and a multidisciplinary partnership among the American Cancer Society/American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology/American Society for Clinical Pathology made new recommendations for cervical cancer screening for women. I would like to remind you of some of those recommendations and make it clear that they are for healthy women that have no risk factors for cervical cancer.
A cervical screening is done by a test commonly called a pap smear. It is a test in which a sample of cells are collected from a woman’s cervix and tested for abnormalities. All women should be screened beginning at the age of 21. If a woman has a normal Pap smear result and remains symptom free she will not need another pap smear for three years. It is recommended that women ages 30-65 are also tested for the Human Papilloma Virus. Women that have normal Pap results along with a negative HPV result will not need to have another Pap test for 5 years. HPV testing is important because HPV can cause changes in the cells of the cervix that could possibly lead to cervical cancer. Depending on a woman’s health history, age 65 is the usual age to stop having cervical screenings. That does not mean women over 65 should stop having an annual well-woman exam.
Do not let these recommendations confuse you. The main thing to remember is to continue to schedule a yearly well woman exam. It is very important to have an annual well-woman visit. Cervical testing is just one portion of a well woman exam. Every year women should have a well exam that may include a clinical breast exam along with other valuable health screenings (such as for heart disease and other cancer screenings) as well as an immunization update. This yearly visit gives you a chance to discuss any health concerns you may have with your health care provider. Your health and risk factors may have changed since the previous year’s well woman exam. It is always important to keep your health care provider informed of any abnormal symptoms or changes in your health.
Remember that part of staying healthy as a woman is having a yearly well-woman exam. If you have not had one this year then please take the time to call and schedule one today. While you are thinking about it, please also remind the special women in your life to do the same.
Sara Walz, RN, is the Regional Program Coordinator for Show Me Healthy Women, Jackson County Health Department. She also serves as a member of the Health Education Advisory Board for the City of Lees Summit.