Check Up 13

Welcome to Check Up 13, in partnering with St. Vincent

WTHR, Channel 13, and Anne Marie Tiernon, co-anchor and health reporter, have partnered with St. Vincent, a member of Ascension, the nation's largest Catholic and not-for-profit health system, on an initiative called Check Up 13. The goal of the program is to educate and encourage Indiana residents to take a proactive role in their own health. Check Up 13 includes news stories that will air on the 13th of every month during the Health Beat segment. The program will highlight St. Vincent medical staff and focus on the health topic screening, event or promotion for that month.

A Guide to Cervical Cancer Screening

Who should have a Pap test and how often? Thanks to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), we have new guidelines for cervical cancer screening.

Before the most recent iteration of these guidelines, a Pap test was typically part of a woman’s annual exam, which also includes a breast and pelvic exam—two important screenings that you still need, even though you probably do not need an annual Pap test.

The best way to find out how often you should be having this important cervical cancer screening is to talk to your healthcare provider.

In the meantime, here is a look at the basics of the guidelines:

  • Cervical cancer screening—including a Pap test, which takes a sample of cervical cells and tests them to determine if abnormal cells are present—should begin at age 21 years. With the exception of women who are infected with HIV or who are otherwise immunocompromised, women younger than 21 years should not be screened regardless of the age of sexual initiation or the presence of other behavior-related risk factors.
  • Women between the ages of 21 and 30 need to have a Pap every three years. Remember, this does not mean you can skip a yearly exam, which also includes a pelvic and breast exam, and a chance to address other female issues.
  • Women between the ages of 30 and 65 years should have a Pap test and a human papillomavirus test (HPV) – known as co-testing – every five years, or a Pap test alone every three years. HPV is a virus commonly acquired during intercourse, and some forms of HPV have been linked to cervical cancer. During an HPV test, a sample is tested for infection with HPV types linked to cancer.
  • Women over the age of 65 years do not need screening, so long as there is no history of cervical changes and the patient has had three negative Pap test results in a row or two negative co-test results in a row within the past 10 years—with the most recent test performed within the past five years.
  • There are three exceptions to these guidelines. First, women who have been exposed to diethylstilbestrol before birth or have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a weakened immune system, or a history of cervical cancer may need more frequent screenings. Second, a woman who has had a hysterectomy in which her cervix was removed and she has a history of cervical cancer or moderate to severe cervical changes should continue to be screened for 20 years after your surgery. Third, a woman who has had a hysterectomy in which her cervix was removed, and she has no history or cervical cancer or cervical changes, can discontinue screening.

As always, if you are unsure of whether you should continue to be screened, consult your healthcare provider.

What is a Pap test?

A Pap test (sometimes called a Pap smear) is a way to examine cells collected from the cervix, or the opening of the womb (located at the top of the vagina), for the presence of:

  • Infection
  • Inflammation
  • Abnormal cells
  • Cancer

Why is a Pap test recommended?

A Pap test, along with a pelvic exam, is an important part of a woman's routine health care because it may detect abnormalities that can lead to invasive cancer. Most cancers of the cervix can be detected early if women have Pap tests and pelvic examinations regularly. As with many types of cancer, cancer of the cervix is more likely to be successfully treated if it is detected early.

The Pap test is useful for detecting not only cancerous cells, but also other cervical and vaginal abnormalities including dysplasia (precancerous cells) and inflammation. Inflammation may be caused by:

  • Yeast infections
  • Trichomoniasis infections
  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Medications or other chemicals
  • Hormones
  • Pregnancy
  • Miscarriage (or abortion)