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Cervical Cancer Screening - Topic Overview

What is screening for cervical cancer?

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.

Women ages 30 to 64 are encouraged to get a human papillomavirus (HPV) test at the same time as a Pap test. The virus can cause cervical cancer and changes in the cervix that can lead to cancer. Certain types of HPV raise the risk of cervical cancer.1

Did You Know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will provide free women’s preventive services, including mammograms, birth control and well-woman visits. Learn more.

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Even if you've already had the HPV vaccine, you still need Pap tests. That's 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 vaccine.

Women should start having Pap tests at age 21.2, 1 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 guidelines apply to women who have never had a serious abnormal Pap test result. If you don't know if you have ever had such a result, talk with your doctor.

How often do you need tests for cervical cancer?

Women 21 to 29

You can have Pap tests every 3 years.2, 1

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

Women 21 to 29 usually aren't tested for HPV, because they are at low risk of cervical cancer. The virus is common in younger women, and their immune system usually gets rid of it.

Women 30 to 64

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

  • You can have Pap and HPV tests every 5 years, if:
    • You had a normal Pap test.
    • You had a normal HPV test.
  • You can have a Pap test (without an HPV test) every 3 years.

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.

Most experts say that you no longer need Pap tests if:2, 1

  • You've had 3 Pap tests in a row with normal results.
  • OR you've had 2 combined 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.
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