You Can Wait Five Years for Your Next Pap

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Women call the doctor well in advance to try to get a slot for their annual visit to the gynecologist. But new guidelines from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) say you can delay that phone call; women should schedule Pap smears every three to five years instead of annually as previously advised. ACOG is concerned about overtesting.

Doctors have recommended that women get Pap smears every year starting from first time of intercourse or age 18, but they now suggest that women between ages 21 and 29 should visit their OB/GYN no more than once every three years for the exam. Women between ages 35 and 60 should wait five years between Paps and should also be screened for HPV (human papillomavirus), which can cause cervical cancer. Those under the age of 30 shouldn't get screened for the virus at all, since many women in their 20s have the virus at some point. HPV tests during this time would catch only a weak version of the virus that the body can fight without help. The body usually gets rid of the virus in a short period of time. Women who have been vaccinated against HPV should still see their doctors for regular testing.

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