When should the first Pap test be done?The recommendation of the National Institute of Health is that all women who have had sexual intercourse should begin a regular screening program for cervical cancer.
Should older women continue to have Pap smears?The National Cancer Institute's Conference panel noted that if two negative Pap smears are obtained after the age of 60, further smears do not appear to be needed. Some doctors recommend Pap tests regularly up to the age of 65 and every three to five years beyond 65.
How is the Pap test done?Living cells are collected from the vaginal fluid by gently scraping the surface of the cervix. These cells are preserved with fixative solution, stained, and put on a microscope slide to be read by a pathologist. The test is done by a gynecologist or another physician in his office, or it can be done at a clinic.
Is it necessary to have a Pap test every year?The American Cancer Society offers the following guidelines for women without symptoms:
• Women between the ages of 20 and 40 should have a pelvic exam every 3 years and a Pap test at least every 3 years after two initial negative tests 1 year apart. These guidelines are also for women under 20 if sexually active.
• Women 40 and over should have a pelvic exam every year and a Pap test at least every 3 years after two initial negative tests 1 year apart.