Most women have it drilled into them that they MUST get a Pap every year, but now the annual ritual of getting a Pap smear is not necessarily annual. Initiation of Pap smears and recommendation for frequency of Pap smears have changed, and a lot of women are confused by how often they need to get one.
Guidelines are as follows:
Why the change? Two reasons. Most abnormal Paps have minimal potential for progression to cancer. This is particularly true for young women. In the event that a persistent dysplasia is present, the transition from pre-cancerous cells to a true cancer takes not weeks or months, but years.
So does that mean you only have to see your gynecologist every three years? Sorry, no such luck. If you don’t need a Pap, you still need to have a breast exam, STD screen, and a pelvic exam to check your uterus and ovaries. And even if you don’t need cells sampled from the cervix, your gynecologist still needs to take a peek inside to make sure your cervix and vagina look healthy.
Also, keep in mind that Pap smears don’t detect 100% of abnormalities. I biopsied a suspicious growth on a patient's cervix that turned out to be an early cancer. Her Pap smear the year before was read as normal, and had she not come in for her annual exam, I would not have seen the growth.
Even if your car is not making funny noises and no warning lights are flashing, it’s a good idea to get the oil and brakes checked annually. Your uterus, cervix and vagina deserve the same attention. After all, if your gynecologist doesn’t look in your vagina, who’s going to?