Your teen is quickly becoming a young woman, and you may be wondering more about how to keep her healthy and when she should start seeing an OBGYN. Perhaps you’re even unsure about how often you're supposed to visit your OBGYN for Pap smears and checkups. Here’s all the information you need to make an informed decision regarding women’s health.

What is a Pap smear?

A pap smear is a simple diagnostic test that involves collecting cells from the cervix to look for precancerous and cancerous cells. By keeping up with routine pap smears, an OBGYN can detect early and suspicious changes in cervical cells to provide early interventions to remove the cells before they turn cancerous. A pap smear is not the same thing as a pelvic exam.

Do I need a Pap smear?

If you are a woman then the answer is “yes”. Every woman will need to get regular Pap smears from an OBGYN, as this is the best tool for catching precancerous cells before they turn cancerous. So, just how often do you need a Pap smear? The most recent recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that,

  • Women between the ages of 21 to 29 should get one every three years
  • Women between the ages of 30 to 65 should get one (along with an HPV test) every five years
  • Women with weakened immune systems (or women with HIV), as well as women who’ve had precancerous cells in the past, may need to come in more often for Pap smears (this is something you’ll want to discuss with your gynecologist)

What does an abnormal Pap smear mean?

Getting abnormal results back doesn’t necessarily mean that you have cancer. Many women will deal with an abnormal Pap smear at some point and it won’t be due to cervical cancer. Other problems that can cause abnormal Pap results include:

  • STIs such as herpes (HSV-2), trichomoniasis, and the human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Inflammation
  • Infection
  • Recent sexual activity

If you do receive an abnormal Pap, your gynecologist will recommend getting another test performed to check those results. If results are still abnormal then further testing will be required to check for precancerous or cancerous cells.

Whether you need to schedule an appointment for you or your teen daughter, an OBGYN is going to be an invaluable part of your medical team, providing everything from support and advice to annual checkups and Pap smears. It’s important that everyone find a gynecologist that they trust.