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Pap Tests for Older Women

Older women still need health checkups and screening tests. That means continuing to get regular gynecological exams and Pap tests even when you are in or beyond menopause. You’ll still need pelvic exams, but you may not need a Pap test after age 65.

Pelvic exams and Pap tests

Pap tests are usually part of a regular pelvic exam for younger women. That’s because the Pap test is one of the best ways to find or prevent cervical cancer. Pap tests can also find problems that aren’t cancer. These problems include abnormalities and infections. A separate test can find out if a woman has human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus is the main risk factor for cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer and other cancers of the vagina and uterus typically cause no symptoms. Screening tests and regular physical exams are often the only way to find these problems. The earlier cervical cancer and other female cancers are found, the easier they are to treat.

When can you stop?

Doctors take into consideration many different medical factors when deciding when a woman who is 65 or older should stop having Pap tests. Ask your doctor for his or her recommendation. If you have had a normal Pap test for the previous 10 years, you may be able to stop having them.

You still need a pelvic exam, though. A pelvic exam allows your doctor to feel your uterus and surrounding organs. This exam can help find problems and some types of cancer.

You may still need a Pap test after age 65 if either of these applies to you:

  • You have had a total hysterectomy in order to treat cervical cancer or precancer. This is usually done to be sure that no cancer cells remain or return.

  • You had a serious cervical precancer within the last 20 years.

  • You are at high risk for cervical cancer because your immune system is suppressed or you were exposed to DES in utero.

Medicare coverage

Pelvic exams and Pap tests are covered under Medicare Part B plans. You do not have to pay for these services if your doctor accepts Medicare. Medicare allows both of these exams to be done every two years. It will cover one screening every 12 months for women who are at high risk for cervical cancer.

These are risk factors for cervical cancer:

  • Your mother took DES while pregnant with you. DES is a hormone medication.

  • You have had a chlamydia infection or genital herpes

  • You have been infected with certain strains of HPV.

  • You have had cervical or vaginal cancer.

  • You had an abnormal Pap test in the past.

  • You currently smoke or have a history of smoking

  • You have been infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)

  • Your diet is low in fruits and vegetables

  • You are overweight

  • You have used oral contraceptives long-term

  • You  have had 3 or more full-term pregnancies

  • You were younger than 17 at your first full term pregnancy

Talk to your healthcare provider about your medical history and cervical cancer risk to decide on the best screening plan for you.

Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Trevino, Heather, M., BSN, RNC
Date Last Reviewed: 2/10/2016
© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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