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.
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 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.
For women in this age group, most experts say:1, 2
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
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.
If you don't know for sure whether you still have your cervix, talk with your doctor.
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.
CitationsAmerican College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
(2012). Screening for cervical cancer. ACOG Practice Bulletin
No. 131. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 120(5):
1222–1238.U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2012). Screening for cervical cancer: Summary of recommendations. Available online: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspscerv.htm.Other Works ConsultedAmerican Cancer Society (2012). Cervical cancer: Prevention and early detection. Available online: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003167-pdf.pdf.
December 12, 2012
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
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