How often do you have to get a Pap smear?

ASK AN EXPERT

[.highlighted] Q: Dear Teal, [.highlighted] I have heard different timelines from friends. How often should you get a pap smear?

A: First, a quick note on Pap smears. For decades, a Pap smear was the best way to test for cervical cancer. Then, with the evidence that HPV causes more than 90% of cervical cancers, the HPV test was introduced alongside the Pap smear.

Now, there are three ways to test for cervical cancer: a Pap smear, an HPV test, and a co-test, which includes both a Pap smear and HPV test.

You’ll notice each of these tests mentioned in the guidelines below. 

Here is the most current screening schedule for cervical cancer, according to the leading expert organizations.  

  • U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: Recommends a Pap test every three years for women ages 21-29. For women over 30 years old, either a Pap test every three years, primary HPV testing alone every five years, or co-testing (Pap + HPV testing) every five years. 
  • American Cancer Society (ACS): For women over the age of 25, the ACS recommends one of the following methods: primary HPV testing every five years (preferred), co-testing every five years, OR a Pap test every three years. 

If you receive an abnormal result, this timeline may be adjusted and should be discussed with your provider.

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Liz Swenson, MD
Medical Director

Liz Swenson is a board-certified OB/GYN who has been providing care to women for more than 20 years. She has learned that women are genuinely interested in their own health and want to understand the science behind their medical conditions. Originally from Iowa, she completed her medical training in Northern California where she still lives with her husband and two daughters. She has worked in a busy multispecialty practice in Palo Alto and has taught OBGYN residents as an Adjunct Clinical Faculty Member of Stanford University. Now, with a focus on helping all women have choices and access to the gynecological care they need, she is excited to use her clinical experience to help improve the lives and longevity of all Teal patients.