Are Pap Smears Still Needed After the Gardasil HPV Vaccine?

What Women Need to Know About Having Pap Smears After Gardasil

HPV vaccine
HPV vaccine. Getty Images/Peter Dazeley/Photographer's Choice

After being immunized with the HPV vaccine (Gardasil), many women wonder if they still need to continue having regular Pap smears. After all, the vaccine does protect against the human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer. That should eliminate the need for a Pap smear, right? Wrong. While that is logical thinking, it couldn't be further from the truth.

Regular cervical cancer screening is a necessity for all women, whether they have had the HPV vaccine or not.

The vaccine is not intended to replace the Pap smear, but instead to help prevent HPV.

Why Women Still Need Regular Pap Smears After the HPV Vaccine

The Gardasil vaccine does not protect against all potentially cancer-causing strains of Human Papilloma Virus.

Although Gardasil protects against two types of HPV, which cause 70% of all cervical cancer cases, there are other strains of the virus that can cause cervical cancer. The vaccine will not protect you against these other strains. Those other strains cause 30% of all cervical cancer, which is still a significant number. While the number of Gardasil-preventable cases with decline, until there is a vaccine for these strains, they will continue to cause cervical cancer.

Not all women get the same amount of protection from the vaccine.

Just like with other routine vaccines, some women may not be fully protected by the HPV vaccine, especially those with a weakened immune system.

You must have a well-functioning immune system to respond to a vaccine and produce antibodies to the virus.

Some women may not complete the vaccine series.

Gardasil requires a series of three shots given over a six-month period. Some women may not finish the series, or may get them at the wrong time, which may cause them not to be fully protected.

Some women may be infected prior to vaccination.

It is possible for a woman to be unaware that she is/has been infected with HPV. Women with prior HPV infection may not receive the same level of protection from the vaccine as women who have never been infected with HPV.

The Best Defense Against Cervical Cancer

The HPV vaccine combined with regular cervical cancer screening is an effective defense against cervical cancer. Don't rely on just one part of this one-two punch against this cancer.

The Pap smear is a highly effective screening tool for women. It can detect abnormal cervical changes long before they become cancerous. When combined with the HPV vaccine, women have excellent protection against developing cervical cancer.

How often a woman has a Pap smear depends on several factors, such as age, current HPV status, and the result of previous cervical exams. Current cervical cancer screening guidelines recommend that women begin having regular Pap smears at age 21.

Keep in mind that yearly pelvic exams are recommended, even if you do not get a Pap smear every year. Pelvic exams will detect many other medical conditions besides cervical cancer.

They are an important part of women's health screening to maintain your reproductive health and detect problems early.

Sources: Killackey, MD, FACOG, FACS, Maureen. "New Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines:." Healthy Women. June 2005. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 

"Sexually Transmitted Diseases." HPV and HPV Vaccine - Information for Healthcare Providers. Aug 2006. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

"HPV Vaccine Information for Young Women," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. March 26, 2015

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