Cervical Cancer Screening
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.
When to start Pap tests
Experts differ on when is the best time to start having Pap tests. Some experts recommend that women should start within 3 years of becoming sexually active. Others say women should wait until they are 21. Talk with your doctor about when to start having Pap tests. If you are sexually active and wait to have a Pap test, it's still a good idea to have tests for sexually transmitted diseases.
How often to have Pap tests
It's a good idea to talk with your doctor about your risk for cervical cell changes or cervical cancer. Experts agree that some women may need to be tested more often if they:
Having the HPV vaccine does not change your need for Pap tests. Women who have had the HPV vaccine should follow the same Pap test schedule as women who have not had the HPV vaccine.
Women who have had a hysterectomy
A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure in which the entire uterus is removed, usually including the cervix. Occasionally the cervix may be left intact (supracervical hysterectomy). You and your doctor can decide on the appropriate screening interval based on your medical history.
Women who have gone through menopause have an increased risk of false-positive Pap test results. For this reason, postmenopausal women with previous normal Pap tests may be advised to have Pap tests less frequently than every year.1
After any abnormal Pap test, your doctor will recommend follow-up to monitor the cell changes.
Cervical cells can be collected by several different methods during a Pap test. Some experts believe that the type of collection method can help determine how often screening should occur. Research on these collection methods continues.
For more information, see the topics Abnormal Pap Test, Cervical Cancer, and Pap Test.
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