I have a question about pap smears/CSTs. I have a lot of friends who have recently turned 25 who have yet to have a pap smear because apparently you don’t have to do it until you’re 25? I’m also 25, I had one at 20 and then recently another at 24. Could I also have waited until I was 25 to have one? I’m really, really confused! I feel like waiting until one is 25, especially if they became sexually active years before then, may not be the best for one’s sexual health. Thank you 🙂
Hey @purple, great question 🙂 The reason you may have gotten mixed messages is the actual test that’s done on the cervix completely changed a couple of years ago!
When you were 20 years old we were still doing the pap smear test. We used to recommend people start getting this test from age 18 (or two years after becoming sexually active). After many years of research though, we found that screening people under 25 years old made no difference to cervical cancer deaths and it led to lots of stressful and unnecessary medical treatment.
We also found that testing for specific types of HPV (now called the Cervical Screening Test or CST) was much more effective at predicting cervical cancer than looking for cells changes on the cervix (the pap smear test). Because of that, we don’t have to test as much (every 5 years instead of every 2 years).
Cervical cancer takes many years to develop. Usually your own immune system will clear HPV on its own. The CST is designed to flag the types of HPV that are more likely to lead to cancer over many years. We watch those closely. If they don’t go away, then people can get treatment to get rid of any problem before it’s even a cancer.
All that is to say, there is now no need to get CST until you’re 25 years old. The new test and new guidelines are based on a better test and more research 🙂