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Abnormal Pap Test - Prevention

You cannot prevent an abnormal Pap test, but you can reduce your risk factors.

Have regular Pap test screening

The Pap test is the most effective screening test to prevent the development of cervical cancer. Pap tests done at regular intervals almost always detect cervical cell changes before the changes become cancerous. Regular screening for and treatment of cervical cell abnormalities can prevent the abnormal cell changes from developing into cancer.

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.

Health Insurance Center

The recommended Pap test schedule is based on your age and on things that increase your risk. For most women, it is best to have a Pap test every 1 to 3 years. Talk to your doctor about when to have your first Pap test and how often to have this test.

Quit smoking

Women who smoke are at higher risk for developing cervical cell changes that cause an abnormal Pap test. The reason for this is not fully understood. Quitting smoking may decrease this risk. Not smoking has many other health benefits. For example, nonsmokers have a lower risk of other cancers and heart disease. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.

Reduce your risk of a sexually transmitted infection (STI)

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), especially HPV infection, often cause abnormal Pap tests and can lead to other serious health problems. Preventing an STI is easier than treating an infection after it occurs.

  • Talk with your partner about STIs before beginning a sexual relationship. Find out whether he or she is at risk for an STI. Remember that it is quite possible to be infected with an STI without knowing it. Some STIs, such as HIV, can take up to 6 months before they are detected in the blood. Consider HIV testing if you or your partner are at risk for HIV.
  • Be responsible.
    • Avoid sexual contact if you have symptoms of an STI or are being treated for an STI.
    • Avoid all intimate sexual contact with anyone who has symptoms of an STI or who may have been exposed to an STI.
  • Use male or female condoms to reduce the risk of getting an STI. Using male condoms when you have sex has been shown to reduce your risk of getting HPV.2 Female condoms may help also, although there has been less study of this type of protection.
  • Abstaining from sexual intercourse is the only way to completely prevent any exposure to STIs.

Your risk for an STI increases if you have several sex partners at the same time or if your sex partner has more than one partner.

If you are age 26 or younger, get the HPV shot. The vaccines Cervarixform.gif(What is a PDF document?) and Gardasilform.gif(What is a PDF document?) protect against two types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against two types of HPV that cause genital warts. Three shots are given over 6 months. The series of shots is recommended for girls age 11 or 12 and can be given to females ages 9 to 26. You can get either vaccine. For more information, see the topic Immunizations.

For more information on getting your daughter vaccinated, see:

dplink.gif HPV: Should My Daughter Get the Vaccine?
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 17, 2011
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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