A: Periodic visits to a health care provider for a screening physical exam and laboratory tests are important aspects of health maintenance and preventive medicine. To be most effective however, the interval at which the visits occur and the specific tests performed should be tailored to the individual patient’s circumstances and risk factors.
Pap smears have been a very successful screening test for reducing the risk of cervical cancer. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends a yearly Pap smear beginning within three years of the onset of sexual activity and no later than age 21 and then continuing to age 30. After age 30, women who are at low risk for cervical cancer can extend the interval between Pap smears to every two to three years.
The term "partial hysterectomy" is used in different ways, and the question of whether to continue Pap smears depends on precisely what was removed at surgery. If the body of the uterus was removed but the cervix was left in place (technically, a "supracervical hysterectomy"), you should continue Pap smear screening as before. If the entire uterus including the cervix was removed and the reason for the hysterectomy was not the presence of cancer or a precancerous growth, then Pap smears can be discontinued.
The gynecologic exam consists of many other elements besides taking the Pap smear. For this reason, all women should continue to have regular pelvic exams, even after a hysterectomy. During the gynecologic exam the skin of the genital region and vagina are inspected and the internal exam is done to assess for abnormalities in the pelvic structures, including the Fallopian tubes and ovaries. The visit will also provide an opportunity for your doctor to counsel you about healthy lifestyle choices and for you to ask questions about health concerns that are unique to women.
More on MSN Health & Fitness:
- Comparison of Hysterectomy Procedures
- Abnormal Pap Test
- Cancer Prevention: 7 Steps to Reduce Your Risk
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