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When Do I No Longer Need To Schedule A Regular Pap Smear?

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Dr. Marcela del Carmen explains that women need to visit their OB/GYN every year for a pelvic floor exam and will need to have a Pap smear at that time if they were not tested for HPV within the last three years. A Pap smear can identify cervical cancer, a disease that all affects women at all life stages. Dr. del Carmen is a physician at the Gillette Center for Gynecologic Oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. del Carmen:
Often time women have the misconception that after a certain age, whether it’s after they’ve completed childbearing or after they have entered menopause, that they may no longer need to be screened for cervical cancer, and that’s not accurate to the degree that the new set of guidelines recommend that women continue with Pap smear screening, especially if they have ever had any abnormal Pap smears in their lifetime. That screening needs to continue until they are in their late 60s or early 70s.

Another misconception is that women, who have had a hysterectomy, because the cervix has been removed, no longer need to be screened for cervical cancer and that is also inaccurate.

The new guidelines for Pap smear screening from the American Board of OB/GYN recommend that a woman begins to have cervical cancer screening at the age of 21, that the screening continued either every year if you are having a PAP smear alone, or every three years if you are having a Pap smear in combination with an HPV test.

However, it is very important for a woman to know that even if she doesn’t have to come in for a Pap smear, she still needs to be seen every year by her gynecologist to have a pelvic exam, and a GYN or a gynecological evaluation.

So when we first see a patient at Mass General with cervical cancer, we put together a team of experts that includes a surgical expert; so a gynecological oncologist, a medical oncologist who is an expert in making recommendations about the need for chemotherapy, and a radiation oncologist who will give an opinion as to whether the patient’s tumor will require treatment with radiation therapy.

Our goal is to be able to put together a recommendation for treatment that will optimize efficacy of treatment, but also minimize long-term side effects.

About Dr. Marcela G. del Carmen, M.D.:
Marcela G. del Carmen, MD, MPH is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She completed a residency in Gynecology and Obstetrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a fellowship in gynecologic oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital. She graduated with a Masters in Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health.

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