Do I Need a Pap Smear After the Gardasil Vaccine?

November 25, 2018

After being immunized with a few of those HPV vaccines (Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix), you could be asking yourself if you still need to have routine Pap smears. In the end, the vaccines do shield against the human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus which causes cervical cancer. Shouldn’t that eliminate the need for a Pap smear? While that may look like logical thinking, it could not be farther from the reality.

Regular cervical cancer screening is a necessity for many women, whether they have experienced the HPV vaccines or not. These vaccines are not meant to replace the Pap smear, but instead to help avoid HPV. However, the vaccines do not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer, and several factors may influence the level of protection you receive in the vaccine.  

The HPV Vaccines Offer Protection From Many Cervical Cancers

Gardasil and Cervarix, both HPV vaccines which were first available, shield against the two forms of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancer cases, in addition to genital warts. The vaccine won’t protect you against another cancer-causing strains. Those other breeds are responsible for 30 percent of all cervical cancers, which is still a significant number. 

Gardasil 9, that became available in 2015, protects against nine kinds of HPV, such as both that first Gardasil protects against, providing immunity to 90% of cervical cancers while protecting against genital warts.

But because even Gardasil 9 doesn’t protect against 100 percent of cervical cancers, routine Pap smears are essential. 

Other Reasons You Still Need Regular Pap Smears 

Not all women get the same amount of protection from the vaccines. Just like with other regular vaccines, some girls might not be fully protected by the HPV vaccine, especially those with weakened immune systems.

You must have a well-functioning immune system to respond to a vaccine and produce antibodies to the virus.

Some women might not complete the vaccine series.  Gardasil takes a series of three shots given over a six-month period. Some girls may not finish the show or might get them in the incorrect time, which may cause them not to be fully protected.

Some women might be infected prior to vaccination.  It’s possible for a woman to be unaware that she is/has been infected with HPV. Girls with prior HPV infection may not obtain the same amount of protection against the vaccines as women who have never been infected with HPV.

The Best Defense Against Cervical Cancer

The HPV vaccine together with regular cervical cancer screening is a powerful defense against cervical cancer. Don’t rely on just 1 part of the punch.

The Pap smear is an extremely effective screening tool for girls. It may detect abnormal peripheral changes before they become cancerous. When combined with the HPV vaccine, girls have excellent protection against developing cervical cancer.

How frequently a woman has a Pap smear is dependent upon many factors, such as age, present HPV standing, and the end result of earlier cervical exams. Current cervical cancer screening guidelines recommend that women start having regular Pap smears at age 21.

Remember that annual pelvic exams are recommended, even in the event that you do not get a Pap smear every year. Pelvic exams will detect a number of other medical conditions besides cervical cancer. They’re an important part of women’s health screening to keep your reproductive health and detect problems early.