A Pap test is an important screening for cervical cancer that detects abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. The test is the biggest cervical cancer prevention for women ages 21 and older. After age 65, however, the need for Pap smears decreases for most women.
Guidelines after 65
Typically, women over 65 do not need Pap smears if previous test results have been negative and the woman has had at least 3 Pap tests in the last 10 years. In some cases, healthcare providers will recommend Pap smears after menopause. If a woman has a history of cervical cancer or if a woman has a weak immune system, a doctor may recommend continued screening. Additionally, sexually active women of all ages who have multiple partners should discuss Pap tests with a healthcare provider.
Other reasons to stop screenings
Regardless of age, most women who have had a total hysterectomy no longer need Pap smears. The exception to this includes women who had a hysterectomy as part of a treatment plan for cervical cancer. However, women who have had hysterectomies should still continue routine pelvic exams.
Warning signs and symptoms
Any abnormal bleeding after menopause is a reason to schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider. The most common early sign of cervical cancer is abnormal bleeding, along with vaginal discharge. Pelvic pain is not a sign of cervical cancer. However, pain can be indicative of other underlying health conditions and should be checked out by a physician.
What screenings are needed?
After the age of 65, though the need for some tests decreases, the need for other screenings increases. For example, women over the age of 65 are advised to have a bone density test to screen for osteoporosis every 2 years. Women should also continue having yearly breast exams and mammograms, colonoscopies at least every 10 years, and lipid assessments to check for signs of heart disease every 5 years.
Ask a healthcare provider
Women over the age of 65 should consult with a healthcare provider regarding health tests and screenings. In many cases, women who have had normal Pap test results in the previous 10 years may not need the screening anymore. However, all women should watch for early signs of cervical cancer, such as abnormal bleeding or discharge.