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Annual pap smears are no longer recommended. Here's why

Pap smears used to be performed on an annual basis, often as part of an annual well-woman exam. Pap smears can detect things like cervical cancer, which is mostly caused by the HPV virus. 

Dr. Megan Wasson with the Mayo Clinic says they eventually learned they were over-testing and, therefore, over-treating individuals for changes in the cervix. So, changes were made to the recommendations.

"These guidelines were updated last year and 2021, that we don't initiate pap smears until the age of 21. And then in the 20s, we only recommend doing pap smears every three years," said Wasson.

Once a patient turns 30, those pap smears are performed every five years. 

"So, we really do recommend having an awareness of your pelvis," she said. "But we don't need to do cervical cancer screening for the average patient every single year any longer."

KJZZ senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.