Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women. But over the last 30 years, the cervical cancer death rate has decreased by more than 50 percent. The main reason for this change was the increased use of cervical cancer screenings. Screenings can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops as well as find cervical cancer early − in its most curable stage.
Women can easily prevent cervical cancer with regular screening tests and follow-up. Two screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer by detecting it early – the Pap test (or Pap smear) and the human papillomavirus (HPV) test.
Cervical cancer usually takes 10 to 20 years to develop. So testing is not typically recommended every year. Remember that every woman is different. Start a conversation with your doctor about which tests and treatments you need – and which you don't – so that you receive the care that's right for you.
Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines:
- Age 21 to 29: A Pap test is recommended every three years
- Age 30 to 65: A Pap test and HPV test are recommended every five years, or Pap testing alone every three years
- Ages 65-plus: If you have had several normal Pap tests in a row, you can stop having the test
- After a hysterectomy: If you still have a cervix, you should follow the guidelines above.
- At any age: Talk with your doctor about more frequent testing if you have had risk factors for cervical cancer:
- You had cervical cancer in the past
- You have an HPV infection
- You have pre-cancerous changes in your cervix
- You have a condition that weakens your immune system, like cancer or HIV
Should I get a pelvic exam if I don’t need a Pap test?
You can have a pelvic exam without a Pap test, but it is rarely needed. You might need a pelvic exam if you have pelvic or abdominal pain, abnormal bleeding or discharge, or severe menstrual pain.
To shop around for a high quality, low-cost health care provider, visit www.shpnc.org and click “Find a Doctor