When Should I Get a Pap Smear?

>> Tuesday, February 12, 2013

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So what is the truth about pap smears? Everywhere we read, it says something different about how often we need to get a check-up with the gynecologist. And we hear, “. . . if you've had a hysterectomy you never need to have a pap again.”

The so-called guidelines suggest that no one needs a pap smear until age 18 – 21, regardless of the age of the first sexual experience. But, consider how prevalent HPV is, and how easily it is transferred to women during sex – and knowing it is the #1 cause of cervical, anal, and oral cancers.

There is also the worry of infertility that can be caused by STDs. When exams are encouraged at an early age, this can be minimized and treated, if necessary.

Pap smears may be discontinued after surgery for a total hysterectomy, unless it was performed for cervical cancer or any type of pre-invasive diagnosis found on pap smear. This includes high risk HPV, uterine, ovarian, breast, bladder or anal cancer. Yearly paps and pelvic exams should be continued if you have ever had, or currently have, any of these cancers.

Having a compromised immune system for any reason – from diabetes, HIV, Lupus or other auto-immune disorders – can put you at risk for cancer and pre-invasive disease, even if you have never been diagnosed with it. It is so important to get yearly exams and not assume that you are not at risk just because you are too young, too old, not currently having sex, or because you have had a hysterectomy.

The most important thing is to put yourself first. We, as women, can easily ignore our own needs and health as we take care of our families. Let me say this, it's not worth it, because you deserve to be healthy and feel good. Most cancers, if caught early, are curable and never advance to the point of even needing drastic treatment like chemotherapy or radiation. You and your family deserve to have you happy and healthy.

Have a safe and happy week,

Dr. Susan Boyd, MD



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