Why The Pap Smear May Be On Its Way Out For People Over 30

woman at doctors

Pap smears are an incredibly important part of women's health maintenance. But let's be honest: those annual exams are so unpleasant! The stirrups, the speculum, the cervix scraping: so many women skip getting their annual exam because of the pain and discomfort they feel during the exam. So for women over the age of 30, some recent news out of the medical research field will be welcomed with open arms! A new research study says that getting a pap smear if you're over the age of 30 might be unnecessary.

The new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, says that the portion of the cervical exam that includes in the pap smear may soon become obsolete for women over 30. Typically, a doctor would collect a cell sample from your cervix by scraping the wall with a plastic tool. That sample would be sent to the lab to test for abnormal cervical cells. Abnormal cervical cells are an early marker of cervical cancer (but obviously are not always indicative of the disease).

woman at doctor
Credit: iStock / Ridofranz

But new research shows that by testing women over 30 for HPV, instead of collecting a cervical cell sample, doctors can obtain cervical and vaginal secretions to test for and diagnose human papillomavirus, or HPV. Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.

In women under 30, the clinical practice of obtaining a cervical cell sample would still be the standard. Since nearly every woman between the ages of 22 and 29 would test positive for HPV. The virus usually goes away on its own and at that stage, requires no treatment. But in women over 30 who still test positive for the virus, treatment options are available to stop the progression of the disease into something far more serious, like cervical cancer.

Unfortunately, we're probably still a ways away from saying goodbye to the pap smear. Like any new medical practice, more research is needed to confirm the recent findings. And there are still those people who feel better with the tried-and-true pap test, in case they fall into the 1% of patients who develop cervical cancer not related to HPV. But it sure would be nice to skip that step during your annual, right?

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