Changes in how often women need a Pap smear

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- For so long, women have heard it over and over: you have to get a Pap smear every year. Turns out, it is a big deal, but only every few years.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says if you have a history of normal Pap smears, you only need one every three years, not every year.

Dr. Michelle Horvath at Green Valley OB/GYN says just because the Pap screening isn't every year doesn't mean women don't need to go in for their annual exam every year.

"There is much more to a woman than just her cervix. The clinical exam, the pelvic exam, is very important. That's how we make sure there are no masses or anything else on the ovaries or the uterus. That's our only way of picking up some diseases. The annual visit is also so important to determine a woman's general overall health."

Pap smears test for human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical cancer. Widespread Pap screening has lowered the cervical cancer rate by more than 50 percent over the past 30 years.

Dr. Horvath says women in their 50s and 60s, who are newly divorced or widowed or dating again for whatever reason, are particularly at risk for HPV and need to tell their doctor about their change in lifestyle.

"They are the fastest growing population for an increase in sexually transmitted diseases. Things have changed, culture has changed."

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