Pap Smears after Hysterectomy

Women who've had a hysterectomy for reasons other than cancer may not need regular Pap smears, one study suggests.

A Louisiana State University Medical Center study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, examined vaginal smears from women treated at a New Orleans hospital. Of 9,610 Pap smears taken of 5,682 women who had hysterectomies for benign gynecologic disease, only 104 showed any abnormalities and none were cancerous.

Pap smears check for cancer of the cervix. Women with hysterectomies have their cervix and uterus removed. Vaginal cancer is rare among these women and often can be detected visually.

"This does not mean women no longer have to see their gynecologists," says Thomas E. Nolan, M.D., senior author of the study and an obstetrics and gynecology professor at LSU. "Women still need gynecological examinations to check for vulvar abnormalities and ovarian cancer."

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists still endorses annual Pap smears for all women who are over 18 or sexually active, whichever comes first. But the college says after three consecutive satisfactory annual exams, pap smears can be done less frequently in low-risk women.