In the United States, over 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. This number is astounding, considering cervical cancer is preventable with the proper screening and treatment of abnormal cell changes.
Here are the recommended screening procedures for women by age. Talk to your doctor to ensure you are getting both screening tests for early detection of cervical cancer.
Two screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early—
- The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.
- The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause these cell changes.
Both tests can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic. During the Pap test, the doctor will use a plastic or metal instrument, called a speculum, to widen your vagina. This helps the doctor examine the vagina and the cervix, and collect a few cells and mucus from the cervix and the area around it. The cells are sent to a laboratory.
- If you are getting a Pap test, the cells will be checked to see if they look normal.
- If you are getting an HPV test, the cells will be tested for HPV.
When to Get Screened
If You Are 21 to 29 Years Old
You should start getting Pap tests at age 21. If your Pap test result is normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait three years until your next Pap test.
If You Are 30 to 65 Years Old
Talk to your doctor about which testing option is right for you—
- A Pap test only. If your result is normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait three years until your next Pap test.
- An HPV test only. This is called primary HPV testing. If your result is normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait five years until your next screening test.
- An HPV test along with the Pap test. This is called co-testing. If both of your results are normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait five years until your next screening test.
If You Are Older Than 65
Your doctor may tell you that you don’t need to be screened anymore if—
- You have had normal screening test results for several years, or
- You have had your cervix removed as part of a total hysterectomy for non-cancerous conditions, like fibroids.
It can take as long as three weeks to receive your test results. If your test shows that something might not be normal, your doctor will contact you and figure out how best to follow up. There are many reasons why test results might not be normal. It usually does not mean you have cancer.
If your test results show cells that are not normal and may become cancer, your doctor will let you know if you need to be treated. In most cases, treatment prevents cervical cancer from developing. It is important to follow up with your doctor right away to learn more about your test results and receive any treatment that may be needed.
If your test results are normal, your chance of getting cervical cancer in the next few years is low. Your doctor may tell you that you can wait several years for your next screening test. But you should still go to the doctor regularly for a checkup.
What To Do After A Cervical Cancer Diagnosis
If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with cervical cancer, our Start Here Guide is a good place for you to start. It can provide you with two actionable steps you can take on the path towards selecting the best treatment. For more helpful resources, including questions to ask your doctor, visit our Cervical Cancer Resource Library.