This is a great question and has had a variety of answers over the last few years. A Pap smear is a test that screens for cancer of the cervix and was in invented by and named after the prominent Greek doctor Georgios Papanikolaou in the 1930’s.
In March 2012, updated screening guidelines were released that recommend women have their first Pap test at age 21 and have screening every three years from 21-29 if the test is negative.
If abnormalities are identified on the Pap smear, they are handled less aggressively in these same young women. The reasons for this include the following:
1) the frequency of cervical cancer is very low in young women
2) we want to prevent cervical damage from unnecessary procedures including biopsies, loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEPs), cryosurgical destructive procedures or surgical cervical conizations, and
3) many of the abnormalities are actually due to HPV, which the immune system often clears on its own.
This more conservative approach ensures that we are doing everything possible to minimize the risk of cervical disease, preserve fertility, and avoid any potential pregnancy complications such as preterm labor.
By Suzanne Swanson, MD, pediatric gynecologist, ThedaCare Physicians-Pediatrics in Darboy.