Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause changes in the cervical cells that lead to cervical cancer. There are many strains of HPV. A “high-risk” strain or high-risk HPV is the most concerning because these are the strains that have the higher likelihood of affecting the cervical cells. Testing for high-risk HPV is commonly performed with the pap smear. The pap smear is an important test used to screen for cervical cancer.
For ages, 21-29, pap smears are recommended every 3 years. HPV testing is not routinely done on women ages of 21-29, because at this age, the viral infection usually resolves spontaneously. However, if a woman of age 21-29 has a pap smear with abnormal cells, HPV testing can be done secondarily. In women age >/= 30, HPV testing is routinely done with the pap smear. The pap smear + HPV testing (co-testing) is recommended every 5 years.
Women should begin pap smears at the age of 21, regardless of age of first sexual activity. The age to stop pap smears depends on your risk factors for cervical cancers. A few common risks for cervical cancer are: smoking, new sex partners, HPV, and history of abnormal pap smear.
Kirstie Cunningham, MD, FACOGPresident, Metro Health and Wellness, LLC