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What you need to know about Pap tests 9/11/2012 6:52:20 AM
Should women have a Pap test every year?

The American Cancer Society's new screening recommendations no longer recommend an annual Pap test for women who have no symptoms of cervical cancer because studies have demonstrated that it takes 10 to 20 years for cervical cancer to develop. Annual screenings are likely to lead to unnecessary procedures.

What does the Pap test do?

The Pap test can detect pre-cancerous cell changes and cervical cancer in its early stages. Early treatment can prevent development of cervical cancer and control or cure cervical cancer. The Pap test is a fast, painless procedure done in your doctor's office. Your doctor removes a few cells from the cervix by scraping it gently with a specialized instrument. These cell samples are sent to the laboratory for analysis.

Do all women need Pap tests?

Every woman should begin having regular cervical cancer screenings at age 21. From 21 to 29, a Pap test is recommended every three years. From 30 to 65, women should have both a Pap test every three years or, if you prefer, a Pap test and HPV test every five years. Women over age 65 whose previous screenings always have been normal do not need to continue to have Pap smears. Talk to your OB/GYN about whether or not you should follow the three-year guidelines because there are circumstances where Pap smears are not recommended or where they are recommended more frequently.

What is the HPV test?

The HPV (human papilloma virus) is a group of more than 100 related viruses. High-risk types of the warts can lead to cervical cancer. The HPV test can find infections that may lead to cell changes and cancer. If you have an abnormal Pap test, your OB/GYN also may order an HPV test. Women who have had the HPV vaccine should still follow the screening recommendations for their age group. It is recommended for females ages 11 to 26. This vaccine to prevent cervical cancer is the first FDA-approved vaccine to prevent a cancer.

(Dr. Kathleen Perkerewicz is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology. She specializes in da Vinci robotic-assisted surgery, high-risk obstetrics, urinary incontinence and laparoscopic surgery. Her office is located at Sanford Obstetrics and Gynecology in Bismarck. A graduate of the UND School of Medicine, she completed her OB/GYN residency at Saginaw Cooperative Hospitals in Saginaw, Mich.)
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