It’s almost Halloween, and while young children are cowering in fear at the prospect of vampires and mummies, most women shudder to think of a bigger beast: the dreaded first Pap smear.
Will it hurt? Should I have a male or female doctor? Do they really use those metal thingies during the visit? Let’s face it. The prospect of what goes on behind the curtain causes most women as much anxiety as a horror film. But fortunately, as Matthew Ting, MD, FACOG at Ozarks Community Hospital shares below, the so-called “feared smear” is actually a good thing.
I have performed thousands of Pap smears so far and have yet to meet a patient who is looking forward to one. Knowing this, I’d like to share some facts with you:
- According to the American Cancer Society, there were 11,270 new cases of cervical cancer and 4,070 cases of cervical cancer deaths in the United States in 2009.
- The incidence of cervical cancer has decreased more than 50% over the last 30 years because of widespread Pap smears.
- Sadly, about 50% of women diagnosed with cervical cancer never had a Pap smear.
I don’t know about you, but these cancer stats are a bit more frightening than receiving a Pap smear in the first place.
Nowadays, primary prevention against cervical cancer is the HPV vaccine and secondary prevention is pap screening. It’s important to get the facts; recent American Congress of Obstetrician and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommendations are as follows:
- Pap screening should begin at age 21, regardless of level of sexual activity and should be done every 2 years for women between the ages of 21 to 29.
- HPV testing should not be done in women under 21 years old.
- Women over 30 with several consecutive normal Pap smears or a negative HPV can be re-screened in 3 years.
- Screening for “upper age” women should be based on individual past screening history. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force set upper age limit of 65.
Remember, you still need to see your physician for routine examination. For those who dread a Pap smear, don’t. It could save your life!
Dr. Ting received his degree from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and is board certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology. He is an active member of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Greene County Medical Society and the Missouri State Medical Society. To contact Dr. Ting, call (417) 837-4079.