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Is Pap testing still needed after hysterectomy?

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A 50-year-old woman presents for a new patient visit. She underwent vaginal hysterectomy for menorrhagia 4 years ago, with removal of the uterus and cervix. Tissue studies at that time were negative for dysplasia. Her previous physician performed routine Papanicolaou (Pap) tests, and she asks you to continue this screening. How do you counsel her about Pap testing after hysterectomy for benign disease?


Introduced in 1941, the Pap test is an example of a successful screening tool, improving detection of early cervical cancer and reducing rates of morbidity and death due to cervical cancer. Early stages of cervical cancer are the most curable. 1

Screening in women who have a cervix

In 2012, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) updated its 2003 recommendations for cervical cancer screening. 1 In the same year, the American Cancer Society, the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, and the American Society for Clinical Pathology published a consensus guideline. 2 This was followed by publication of a guideline from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 3 These guidelines all recommend Pap testing for cervical cancer every 3 years in women ages 21 to 65. In women ages 30 to 65, the screening interval can be lengthened to every 5 years if the patient undergoes cotesting for human papillomavirus (HPV). These recommendations apply only to women with a cervix.

No screening after hysterectomy for benign indications

Women who undergo hysterectomy with complete removal of the cervix for benign indications, ie, for reasons other than malignancy, are no longer at risk of cervical cancer. Pap testing could still detect vaginal cancer, but vaginal cancer is rare and screening for it is not indicated. The USPSTF 2003 and 2012 guidelines recommend not performing Pap testing in women who had had a hysterectomy for benign indications. 1

Vaginal cancer is rare

Although cervical and vaginal cancers share risk factors, vaginal cancer accounts for only 0.3% of all invasive cancers and 1% to 2% of all gynecologic malignancies in the United States. 4

A review of 39 population-based cancer registries from 1998 to 2003 found the incidence rate for in situ vaginal cancer to be 0.18 per 100,000 women, and the incidence rate for invasive vaginal cancer was 0.69 per 100,000. Rates were higher in older women and in certain ethnic and racial groups, including black and Hispanic women. 4

When the cervix is removed during hysterectomy for a benign indication, the patient’s risk of vaginal cancer or its precursors is extremely low. Pearce et al 5 reviewed Pap tests obtained from the vaginal cuff in 6,265 women who had undergone hysterectomy for benign disease. Their 2-year study reviewed 9,610 vaginal Pap tests, and in only 5 women was vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia type I or II found, and none of the 5 had biopsy-proven vaginal cancer. Only 1.1% of all Pap tests were abnormal. The authors concluded that the positive predictive value for detecting vaginal cancer was 0%. 5

A retrospective study by Piscitelli et al 6 in 1995 looked back 10 years and found an extremely low incidence of vaginal dysplasia in women who had undergone hysterectomy for a benign indication. Their findings, coupled with the high rate of false-positive tests, do not support cytologic screening of the vagina after hysterectomy for a benign indication. The data also suggested that 633 tests would need to be performed to diagnose 1 case of vaginal dysplasia. 6 Other studies have also reported a low yield of vaginal cuff cytologic testing after hysterectomy for benign disease.

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