Earlier this month a number of medical organizations released new recommendations for how often women should get Pap smears. Previously, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, American Cancer Society, the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, and the American Society for Clinical Pathology all suggested that women in their twenties get a Pap smear every year at their annual gyno visit. But now, they've changed their tune and are saying that getting tested every three years is sufficient.
By Zoë Ruderman
"But the new recommendations are all about cost effectiveness," says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D. gynecologist and clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University School of Medicine. She says that if your insurance will pay for a Pap smear every 12 months, she recommends getting tested, especially if you're not in a mutually monogamous relationship and having unprotected sex. "These guidelines may make sense for a woman who's having sex with just one guy, but not if you're single and not using condoms. If that's you-and your insurance will pay for it-don't wait three years to get tested."
Another reason to ask for a Pap smear each time you see your gyno (and allow us to take this moment to say, You are seeing your gyno every year, right?): the test can pick up on other health issues like endometriosis. "Twenty-five percent of uterine cancer diagnoses can be initiated by what a doctor sees on a Pap smear," explains Minkin. She pointed out, though, that these cases aren't common and don't justify annual Pap smears in terms of cost effectiveness. So, again, it's all about whether or not your insurance will foot the bill.
Now, if your insurance does cover the tests, but your doctor pushes back on your request, Minkin recommends saying, "I understand the new guidelines, but my insurance covers it and I'd feel more comfortable if you did it." Most gynos will do as you request, and if yours doesn't, don't feel guilty about finding a doc who will.
Regardless of your insurance, there's one thing you've got to make sure your gyno is doing every single year. Even if she's not testing you for cervical cancer, it's imperative that she still do an internal exam so she can check your cervix, says Minkin.
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