Have you been to an obstetrician/gynecologist, or OB/GYN, for a pelvic exam and Pap smear? If you haven't and you're 21 or older, you're way overdue for a visit. If you have, then how long has it been? It's important for women of all ages to visit an OB/GYN and have preventative tests done when appropriate. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:
- All women should have annual Pap smears beginning at age 21
- Women 21 to 29 should get a Pap every year
- From ages 30 to 64, get a Pap every other year (or as often as your doctor recommends)
When do women need pelvic exams?
Teenage girls should see an OB/GYN for the first time between the ages of 13 and 15. Pelvic exams are rarely done during the first visit, but visiting early helps to establish a relationship with the doctor, go over medical and sexual history and ask any questions about sexually transmitted diseases or contraceptives.
In most cases, a yearly Pap smear is not necessary after age 30, but all women still require an annual pelvic exam to check for any other changes or infections. If you have had an HPV test that was negative, you still need to have a yearly pelvic exam. The ACOG established these guidelines with full knowledge that HPV causes cervical cancer.
Having multiple sexual partners increases your risk of getting HPV substantially-about 15 percent with each partner. According to the ACOG guidelines for Pap testing, women diagnosed with HIV or other diseases or conditions that lower immunity should continue having annual Pap smears after age 30.
In fact, the greatest single reason for the occurrence of cervical cancer is not having Pap smears according to recommended guidelines.
The majority of women diagnosed with cervical cancer have not had a Pap smear in five or more years. Sadly, by the time it is discovered, these women are usually at an advanced stage of cancer.
Remember, it's crucial for women of all ages to visit an OB/GYN at the recommended frequency to have a preventive test done. Detecting health problems early could be the key to saving your life.