The first Pap test for cervical cancer screening is recommended to be done 3 years after the onset of vaginal intercourse and no later than age 21. The American Cancer Society (ACS), American College of Gynecologists (ACOG) and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) agree on this. This one is easy (except for all the acronyms).
There is disagreement however regarding the recommendations for the intervals of testing and for when the tests should be stopped. You may wish to discuss the pros and cons of each recommendation with your doctor to see which one is right for you.
ACS suggests: Pap tests every 1-2 years until the age of 30. After age 30, combine the Pap test with HPV (human papilloma virus) testing which is done at the same time as the Pap. If both are negative, then repeat every 3 years. If Pap is negative but HPV is positive then repeat every 6-12 months. Stop Pap tests in patients who are 70 years or older who have had at least 3 consecutive normal tests.
ACOG suggests: Pap tests every year until the age of 30, and the same as ACS for women after the age of 30. Stopping the Pap test is determined on a case by case basis.
USPSTF suggests: Pap tests every 3 years, and to stop at age 65 if there have been normal recent Paps. They do not have recommendations for or against routine HPV testing.
Clarification: A Pap test is done to detect cervical cancer. If sexual activity has started and there is a need for screening for sexually transmitted diseases then a pelvic exam (which doesn't necessarily involve a Pap test) should be done earlier than the recommendations for a Pap test.
To get automatic email reminders for your Pap test go to www.MyHealthTestReminder.com.
References: please see specific links.