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Cervical Cancer Screening - Topic Overview

A Pap test, or Pap smear, is the most effective screening test for cervical cancer. It's often part of a pelvic exam. Regular testing can help your doctor find and treat abnormal cell changes on your cervix before they develop into cancer.

Some women also get a human papillomavirus (HPV) test at the same time as a Pap test. Even if you've already had the HPV vaccine, you still need Pap tests because the vaccine doesn't protect you from all types of HPV. Women who have had the HPV vaccine should follow the same Pap test schedule as women who have not had the HPV vaccine.

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Women should start having Pap tests at age 21.1, 2 If you are younger than 21 and are sexually active, it's still a good idea to have regular testing for sexually transmitted infections.

These recommendations apply to women who have never had a serious abnormal Pap test result. If you don't know whether you have ever had such a result, talk with your doctor about how often you need to be tested.

Women 21 to 30

Women in this age group can have Pap tests every 3 years.1, 2

If any of your tests are abnormal, you may need to be tested more often.

Women 30 to 65

For women in this age group, most experts say:1, 2

  • You can have a Pap test every 3 years.
  • OR you can have a combination HPV and Pap test every 5 years.

If any of your tests are abnormal, you may need to be tested more often.

Women 65 and older

Women ages 65 and older may no longer need Pap tests. Talk with your doctor about what's right for you.

For women in this age group, most experts say that you no longer need Pap tests if:1, 2

  • You've had 3 Pap tests in a row with normal results.
  • OR you've had 2 combination HPV and Pap tests in a row with normal results in the past 10 years and one of those tests was in the past 5 years.

Women who have had a hysterectomy

A hysterectomy is surgery in which the entire uterus is removed, usually including the cervix. Sometimes the cervix is not removed. You and your doctor can decide on the appropriate screening interval based on your medical history.

  • Women without a cervix
    • You don't need Pap tests if the cervix was removed for noncancerous reasons.
    • You may have regular Pap tests if the cervix was removed for precancerous changes, but you may not need them as often if you have no other risk factors.1
    • You should have regular Pap tests if the cervix was removed for cervical cancer.
  • Women with a cervix
    • You should have regular Pap tests until age 65.

If you don't know for sure whether you still have your cervix, talk with your doctor.

Women who need more testing

After any abnormal Pap test, your doctor will recommend follow-up to monitor the cell changes.

Experts agree that some women may need to be tested more often if they:

For more information, see the topic Pap Test.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 12, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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