American Sexual Health Organization (ashaSexualHealth.org):
New Pap Test Guidelines · Condom Use Awareness
Pap smears involve taking a sample of cells from the inner and outer portions of the cervix. More recently we’ve referred to the Pap test: instead of being smeared on a slide, these days it’s more likely that the cells collected for a Pap are placed in a vial and suspended in a solution as they’re whisked away to the lab.
In 2003, the first big shift in cervical cancer screening came as an HPV test came on the market, A short time later HPV genotyping tests came online; this newer wrinkle determines not only if a woman has an HPV infection, but can pinpoint if she has HPV 16 or 18, respectively, the two most aggressive high-risk types In April 2014, the FDA approved the first HPV test to be used as primary screening. In other words, it’s now kosher for providers to screen a woman with only this HPV test, not as part of a buddy system with a Pap done at the same time.
So the annual Pap is now part of an expanding buffet of options that might involve a Pap every three years, a Pap/HPV co-test every five, or even a stand-alone HPV test done every three years. There’s still a role for the Pap even with HPV primary; recent guidance calls for women who are positive for a high-risk HPV type apart from HPV16/18 to have a Pap (those who are found to have HPV16/18 are referred to a colposcopy, where the heathcare provider examines the cervix with a special microscope and takes small samples from any areas that look suspicious).
The most important thing for women is to get screened, period! Don’t worry so much about which test or combination of tests your healthcare provider might use – make sure you start the conversation.
Don’t fear giving up the annual Pap. Most women don’t need a check every year. Also there are some potential harms with testing too often: the more tests we do, the more we tend to refer to follow-up diagnostic procedures, needless biopsies, and so on.
Talk to your healthcare provider, ask them what’s right for you.
Express any concerns. Remember the medical team is in your corner.
If your (or someone in your family) is age 26 or younger ask about an HPV vaccine.