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The value of a yearly physical has been debated lately. For many women, an annual exam allows for peace of mind—knowing that they are as healthy as they feel. For others, a physical is a time to talk with their physician about health topics relevant to their age and risk factors.

It is important to talk with your physician about whether or not you should have a yearly physical. It’s also important to talk about how often you should have a Pap smear—the test used to find cell changes to the cervix that put women at risk for cervical cancer.

This month is national cervical health awareness month. During January, the National Cervical Cancer Coalition raises awareness about the significance of cervical cancer and HPV (human papillomavirus) disease screenings and education.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women follow these guidelines to help find cervical cancer early.

  • All women should begin cervical cancer testing (screening) at age 21. Women aged 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years.
  • Beginning at age 30, the preferred way to screen is with a Pap test combined with an HPV test every 5 years. This is called co-testing and should continue until age 65.
  • Another reasonable option for women 30 to 65 is to get tested every 3 years with just the Pap test.
  • Women over 65 years of age who have had regular screening in the previous 10 years should stop cervical cancer screening as long as they haven’t had any serious pre-cancers found in the last 20 years.

Additional recommendations from the American Cancer Society can be found here.

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