According to the American Cancer Society, age 21 should be the start of Pap smears (screening test for cervical cancer) and should continue every three years until a woman reaches 30 years of age. At that point, Pap smears may be done every five years. Assuming all Pap smear results are normal, at age 65 women may discontinue Pap smear testing. These standards presume all Pap smears have come back with a negative (normal) result for pre-cancerous changes to the cervix. The testing schedule changes with any abnormal conditions to best treat and monitor a patient.
There is a test that accompanies the usual Pap smear and is done at the same time as the annual examination. It is called the high-risk HPV DNA test. HPV stands for human papilloma virus and consists of many strains but only a few are associated with cervical cancer. This test, covered by medical insurance if you live in Oregon, offers more information about the possibility a woman’s cervix may be or has been changed due to exposure to the virus. Women aged 21-29 do not need to have the test unless an abnormal Pap smear is found first. Women, aged 65 and older, do not need to continue HPV testing nor do women who have had a hysterectomy and have no cervix.
Annual physical examinations are still important for all women. While an exam does not have to include a Pap smear, a breast exam and several other physical examinations are completed at that time. A speculum will still be done to visually check the health of the cervix and vagina. While annual female wellness exams are sensitive in nature, they do not have to be anxiety-provoking. It is a good time for the patient to discuss any health concerns with her doctor. Speculum exams can be done with sensitivity and at the patient’s pace. I strive to be a caring physician who can take the time to explain each step of an annual exam.
I’m interested in women’s health because I’m a woman. I’d be a darn fool not to be on my own side.
— Maya Angelou
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All women should complete a Women’s Health examination each year whether a Pap smear is required or not to include examination of the heart, lungs, thyroid, abdomen, breast and a bimanual exam.
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Birth Control options
With the ever-changing information regarding birth control options, it’s good to have a practitioner with whom to discuss the best contraception method for you.