By Sarah Feldman, MD, MPH
Healthy young women should get their first Pap test at age 21. If that test is normal, they should have additional Pap tests every three years. If they have symptoms such as abnormal bleeding or are found to have an abnormality on their cervix during an exam, they may need a diagnostic Pap for cervical cancer earlier. Immunosuppressed women should start Pap testing with the onset of sexual activity, then repeat annually.
Please note: While PAP smears are designed to detect the presence of cervical cancer, vaccinations, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the American College of Physicians, can help prevent infection by the human papilloma virus (HPV). This virus can lead to cervical cancer as well head and neck cancer. Dana-Farber treats all gynecological cancers as part of its Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers.