Let's Talk Paps!

Dr. Mary Powell discusses the what, how, when, and why of pap smears.

What is a pap?

A pap is a screening test for cervical cancer that may be collected during a pelvic exam.


How is it collected?

A brush is used to collect a sample of cells from a woman’s cervix and then those cells are sent to a lab for testing.


Do I need a Pap every year?

This is a common question that women raise when they are meeting with their women’s health care provider. Not all pelvic exams include a pap. Not all women need a pap every year. Our current guidelines recommend waiting to begin paps until age 21. If a women’s pap is normal, she only needs one every three years during her twenties. Between the ages of 30 and 65 we will also test for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) when a pap is collected. If the pap is normal and the test is negative for HPV, then we only need to repeat the testing every 5 years. If a woman has an abnormal pap or tests positive for HPV, she will need to have testing more often. For women after age 65 years of age, with history of normal paps, we can stop collected paps when they have pelvic exams. Also, if a woman has had a hysterectomy, meaning her uterus and cervix were removed, she may not always need further screening paps. If a woman had abnormal paps prior to her hysterectomy, she might still need to have testing. 

A pap is just one part of a pelvic exam and only evaluates the cervix. Even if you only need a pap every five years, you should still come in to see us, generally, every one to two years, depending on your unique needs. At an annual gynecological exam, we can review many different parts of your health. We do a lot more than paps! So please come see your friendly provider at Evergreen’s Women’s Health.