Facebook Pixel

Pap Smears And Cervical Cancer Screening: Updated Guidelines

By Expert HERWriter
Rate This
guidelines-for-cancer-screening-and-pap-tests Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Thinkstock

Women have been told for years that they need to go in yearly for their cervical cancer screening known as the Pap smear. Often starting off in the teenage years, women continue to go on a routine basis until recently when guidelines changed and there was a chance you could extend it out to every two or three years.

Now, the American Cancer Society (ACS), the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP), and the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), convened together and created new updates.

Keep in mind these updates are for the general population, not necessarily for those who have had high-risk Pap results in the past, cervical cancer, exposure to DES (diethylstilbestrol) or who have serious immune system conditions that would not allow the body to fight potential cervical cancer well.

First, when does one have their first Pap? The experts used to say ‘"n the teenage years," which was replaced by :"when first sexually active."

That then changed into "within 3 years of first sexual activity or by 21 years old (whichever came first)," and now teenagers can rest easy knowing the panel decided a first Pap should occur at 21 years old. This is regardless of sexual activity.

This decision was made because cervical cancer is so rare in the younger population. It is also important to note that women who are turning 26 years old now in 2012 are given the opportunity to have the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine which further decreases their risk of cervical cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends girls and women aged between 11 and 26 should get either Cervarix or Gardasil.

If you are older than 21 but not yet 30 years old, you can get your Pap test every three years. This is a huge change as health care providers used to recommend annual screening for women.

Keep in mind you will still need a yearly physical exam but you may not need to do a Pap test too. Does this mean you shouldn’t have a Pap every year?

No! If you are concerned or believe you are at high risk, talk with your health care provider about testing more often.

Those women between 30 and 65 years old should also get their Pap test every three years or, according to the expert panel, get a Pap test plus HPV screening every five years.

This is assuming you have never had an abnormal Pap test in your life. If you have had abnormal test results, or if you have new sexual partners, talk with your health care provider about the best course for you. Just like the younger age group, you will still need a yearly physical and breast exam.

At 65 years old, talk with your health care provider about the need for continued Pap tests as many women can stop depending on their risk and history of abnormal Pap results.


1) Updated Guidelines Released for Cervical Cancer Screening. Web. 21 March, 2012.

2) Cervical Cancer Vaccines May Cut Need for Screening. Web. 21 March, 2012.

Reviewed March 23, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a CommentComments

There are no comments yet. Be the first one and get the conversation started!

Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Cervical Cancer

Get Email Updates

Related Checklists

Cervical Cancer Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!