The guidelines for PAP smear testing have recently changed. Find out at what age a teen should get her first PAP smear – and how often women in their young adult years need this test.
Pap smears are a vital screening tool for diagnosing cervical cancer – and it’s important that all women, young and old, follow the recommended guidelines for getting this exam – to protect their health. When is the best time to start? A year ago, the guidelines for when a teen should get their first PAP smear were changed by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Here’s what the new guidelines say.
At What Age Should Teens get a First PAP Smear Test?
The new American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology guidelines recommends that teens get their first PAP smear at age 21. Previously, the recommendation was for teens to get a first PAP smear three years after becoming sexually active – or no later than age twenty-one.
A PAP Smear Test is a Screening Tool
A PAP smear test screens for cervical cancer, but it can also detect HPV, or human papilloma virus, a virus which increases the risk of developing cervical cancer. Only certain types of HPV increase the risk of cervical cancer – and there’s now a vaccine that protects against seventy-percent of the HPV strains that cause cervical malignancies.
Most doctors recommend that teens and women get this vaccine at age eleven or twelve – or before they become sexually active. Teens that aren’t vaccinated against HPV and have any type of disease that reduces immunity should get a PAP smear test prior to age 21.
How Often Should Young Women Get a PAP Smear Test after the First One?
The new guidelines recommend that women in their twenties be screened every two years, while women in their thirties can wait three years between screenings – but only after they’ve had three negative PAP smear tests in a row.
Why Did the Age for First PAP Smear Change?
The age for first PAP smear was revised due to the very low incidence of cervical cancer in women under the age of 21. In addition, many teens and younger women find PAP smear screening to be stressful and anxiety-provoking, which also played a role in the guideline changes.
On the other hand, any teen that experiences abdominal pain, bumps or sores in the pelvic region, missed periods, pain with urination, vaginal itching, or bleeding between periods needs to see a doctor, who may recommend a PAP smear test.
The Bottom Line?
The guidelines for when a teen should get a PAP smear has changed, but most doctors still recommend that a teen have her first gynecology visit at around age fifteen. Usually a pelvic exam isn’t required unless a teen is having symptoms. This is a chance for a teen to feel more comfortable with seeing a gynecologist – without having a pelvic exam or PAP smear test.
Medscape.com website. “No Pap Smears for Women Under 21: Guidelines”