Q. My mom is 75 years old. She told me that she no longer needs an annual Pap test. Is that true?
A. The most important distinction to make in discussing the continuation of Pap smears is the difference between the Pap smear and an annual examination. An annual examination is a complete comprehensive physical examination which every patient should have on a yearly basis. The Pap smear is a lab test that is done by taking cells from the cervix and evaluating them under a microscope. The Pap smear dates back to the mid – 1950s and is one of the most successful screening tests that we have had in history. The Pap smear itself has led to a significant decrease in the rate of cervical cancer over the last fifty years.
A 75-year-old with no history of cervical dysplasia probably no longer requires a Pap smear for two reasons. First, the incidence of cervical dysplasia or precancerous changes of the cervix are much more likely to be present earlier in life. Secondly, the time that it takes to change from a normal cervix to a cancerous cervix is somewhere between five to fifteen years. For your mother, it is unlikely that she will develop cervical cancer in the future, and, therefore, she no longer requires Pap smears, but should still see a physician annually.
Christopher N. Mullin, MD, FACOG
Life Circle Women’s Health
2301 N. Ocoee St. # A, Cleveland, TN