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Cervical Cancer Screening

Common Questions About Cervical Cancer & Screening for Cervical Cancer

 

What tests screen for cervical cancer

  • The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated approriately.
  • The HPV test looks for the virus human papillomavirus, a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause these cell changes.

Why should I get screened for cervical cancer?
These tests can detect cancer or abnormal cervical cells before they turn into cancer. When caught early, the chance of successful treatment is greatly increased.

Could you have cervical cancer and not know it?
Yes, early on, cervical cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms. So, it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions on when and how often to get a cervical cancer screening. If you experience abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, see your doctor right away.

When should I get screened for cervical cancer screening?

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.

How is the test performed?
Both tests can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic. During the 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 will I get the results?
It can take as long as four weeks to receive your test results.

Where do you get a cervical cancer test?
From a family doctor, OB/GYN, medical clinic or local health department.

For cervical cancer screenings and other important health screening information, see the Preventive Health Guidelines.

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