Women's Health

Cervical Cancer Screening

Overview

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Cervical cancer screening tests check the cells on the cervix for changes that could lead to cancer.

Two tests can be used to screen for cervical cancer. They may be used alone or together.

A Pap test.

This test looks for changes in the cells of the cervix. Some of these cell changes could lead to cancer.

A human papillomavirus (HPV) test.

This test looks for the HPV virus. Some high-risk types of HPV can cause cell changes that could lead to cervical cancer.

Who should be screened?

If you have a cervix, you may need cervical cancer screening. This depends on your age, your risk of cervical cancer, and results from previous tests.

Ages 21 to 29

Screening options include:

  • A Pap test. If your results are normal, you can wait 3 years to have another test.
  • An HPV test beginning at age 25. If your results are negative, you can wait 5 years to have another test. (This test is not commonly used.)

Ages 30 to 64

Screening options include:

  • A Pap test. If your results are normal, you can wait 3 years to have another test.
  • An HPV test. If your results are negative, you can wait 5 years to have another test.
  • A Pap test and an HPV test. If your results are normal, you can wait 5 years to be tested again.

Ages 65 and older

If you are age 65 or older and you've always had normal screening results, you may not need screening. Talk to your doctor.

What do the results mean?

Your test results may be normal. Or the results may show minor or serious changes to the cells on your cervix. Minor changes may go away on their own, especially if you are younger than 30.

You may have an abnormal test because you have an infection of the vagina or cervix or because you have low estrogen levels after menopause that are causing the cells to change.

If you have a high-risk type of human papillomavirus (HPV) or cell changes that could turn into cancer, you may need more tests. Your doctor may suggest that you wait to be retested. Or you may need to have a colposcopy or treatment right away.

Your doctor will recommend a follow-up plan based on your results and your age.

Credits

Current as of: May 4, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Kirtly Jones MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology