Cervical Cancer Prevention: Pap Smears as Women Age

As Women Age, Pap Smears are Still Essential For Cancer Prevention

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The Pap smear is a vital test for all women. The test can detect abnormal cervical changes long before they become cancerous. There are many myths and misconceptions about the Pap smear, including that older women do not need to have the test done. However, this is untrue; most women do need to continue with regular Pap smears as they age, even after menopause.

Average Age of Cervical Cancer Diagnosis

Women between the ages of 35 and 55 are more commonly diagnosed with cervical cancer than women of any other age.

Cervical cancer is a slow progressing disease, and it can take years to develop. Remember, a Pap smear can detect these changes before they turn into cancer. This makes cervical cancer highly preventable and treatment is much more likely to be effective if the cancer is caught in the early stages.

Insurance and Medicare Coverage for Pap Smears

Most private insurance companies cover the cost of having a Pap smear, depending on the specific coverage plan. Check with your insurance company for coverage details.

Medicare allows beneficiaries to get a Pap smear every 24 months. If previous Pap smears were abnormal, or you are at high risk for cervical cancer, a Pap test is covered every 12 months.

Medicare recipients do not have to pay lab fees, but they are responsible for 20% of the Medicare-approved amount with no Part-B deductible for the exam and smear collection.

Women Who Have Gone Through Menopause May Still Need a Pap Smear

Having a Pap test depends on your age, personal risk factors, and findings from previous Pap smears.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), women between the ages of 30 and 65 should undergo the preferred method of having a regular Pap and an HPV test every 5 years (even if they have already gone through menopause). Alternatively, it’s acceptable for women to undergo pap smear screening alone, without an HPV test, every 3 years.

For women ages 65 to 70, those who have had three consecutive normal Pap tests and no abnormal findings in 10 years can discontinue screenings altogether, if they choose.

Pap Smears After Hysterectomy

If you have had a partial or total hysterectomy, you may need to continue having regular Pap smears. This is especially true if you had a hysterectomy because of cancer. ACOG says that women who have undergone a total hysterectomy due to a noncancerous condition, and who have not had previous abnormal Pap smears, can discontinue screenings.

Never Had a Pap Smear? Now Is the Time

If you have never had a Pap smear, or it has been years since your last test, going for a Pap test is highly recommended. The Pap smear is a highly effective screening tool for cervical cancer. Changes can occur within the cervix without your knowledge. Cervical dysplasia and early cervical cancer do not usually produce any noticeable symptoms. This is why the Pap smear is essential for cervical health and the prevention/detection of cervical cancer.


American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG practice bulletin no. 45. Cervical cytology screening. Int J Gynaecol Obstet 2003;83:237–47. 

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Your Medicare Benefits. January 2015 Revised Edition. 

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