Harvard Women's Health Watch

By the way, doctor: How long should I keep getting Pap tests?

Q. Is there an age when a woman no longer needs a Pap smear?

A. Most women are used to getting a Pap test every year or two as part of their routine health care. A Pap test, or Pap smear, examines cells from the cervix to screen for cervical cancer or abnormal cells that could progress to cancer if left untreated.

The success of cervical cancer screening is irrefutable. Once, cervical cancer was the No. 1 cause of cancer death for women in the United States. But today, it's fallen to 10th place, largely because of Pap testing. Since 1950, the rate of new cases and the number of deaths from the disease have dropped by more than 50%. Still, an estimated 11,070 cases of invasive cervical cancer will occur in the United States this year, and some 3,870 women will die because of it.

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