At our practice we’ve been noticing that there’s some confusion around pap smears and annual medical exams. While a pap smear is a very effective test for cervical cancer, it doesn’t accurately assess the health of your entire body. This is why we recommend women visit their doctor annually, even when a pap test is not deemed necessary.

Read below for current medical guidance around cervical screenings, as well as an overview of what you should be discussing with your doctor annually.

 What is a pap smear?

A pap smear is a screening procedure for cervical cancer. Using a small brush your doctor gently scrapes the side of your cervix to gather a sample. These cells are then examined for abnormal growth.

How often should I get a pap?

If you’ve heard that you only need to get a pap smear every three years, you could be right. While many factors will influence your need for testing here are the general guideline for women:

  • Ages 21 to 29: Every three years
  • Ages 30 to 64: Pap test and HPV test every three to five years
  • Ages 65 and up: Consult your doctor, they may no longer be necessary

If you have multiple sexual partners, a family history of cervical cancer, or previous abnormal cells please consult your physician about more regular screenings.

What is not included in a pap?

A pap is one of the most reliable tests for cervical cancer, but it’s not intended to stand alone. As part of your annual Well Woman visit it should be combined with a pelvic exam, breast exam, bone density screening, cholesterol and blood pressure check, BMI assessment, diabetes tests, and more. Along with these health screenings your annual visit is your opportunity to discuss any concerns with your doctor and also receive preventative shots.

Is there any reason not to have an annual exam?

No! Your annual medical visits increase your chances of detecting serious health conditions early on. Truly they could save your life. On top of the health benefits, Medicare and most insurance plans are now required to provide Well Woman visits for free. Most of the time no copay or deductible is necessary for in-network providers.

How do I prepare for my exam?

To get the most out of your annual doctor’s visit keep a journal to note any new symptoms or medical concerns that have come up since your last physical. Also be sure to mention any changes to your family history or medication list. Finally, relax! Remember that your doctor is there to ensure your health and well-being. While medical exams can be nerve-wracking for some the benefits far out way the discomfort.

While a pap-smear may only be recommended every three years, remember to think beyond your cervix. If you have any questions about recommended screenings based on your age or setting up and appointment, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We’re here – for your whole body!

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