So Do I Need a Pap Test or what?

So what’s the deal with the annual gyn (“female”) exam?  Is this the same thing as a Pap test?  When do I have to start having them?  My mom says I should get one every year starting at age 18, but now my friends are telling me I don’t need one until I’m 21.  I’ve never even had sex, so do I need one at all?

These are great questions.  For something as simple as an “annual” exam – just get one every year, right? – it is an awfully confusing topic.  So let’s set the record straight.

A Pap test and the annual gyn visit are actually two different things.

A Pap test (also called a Pap smear) is a specific test that is done to screen for cervical cancer by looking for changes in the cells of your cervix.  It is often a part of the annual gyn exam, but not always. 

The annual gyn exam describes the yearly visit with your women’s health care provider in which she assesses your overall general health, female health specifically (she’ll ask you questions about periods, urinary and vaginal symptoms, breast concerns), and sexual practices.  The actual physical examination portion of the visit (usually referred to as a “pelvic exam“) includes physical examination of the vulva, vagina, uterus and ovaries, as well as the thyroid (a gland in your neck), breasts and abdomen. 

The recommendation for when a woman should receive her first Pap test has changed to age 21.  In addition, nearly every woman age 21 and older needs an annual gyn exam, regardless of whether a Pap test is done or not.  If you are younger than 21, the pelvic exam portion of the annual gyn exam may or may not be done, depending on your sexual history.  Annual testing for Chlamydia is also recommended for all sexually active women up to age 25; this is done as part of the pelvic exam. 

The OSU Comprehensive Student Health Insurance covers the annual exam once a year.  If you have other insurance, please check with your insurance company to see if they will cover the annual exam here.

The clinical staff at Ohio State Student Health Women’s Services is here to take care of all of your women’s health needs.  Come in and see us any time.

Beth Askue, MS, CNP
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University