Getting screened for cervical cancer means getting tested before you have any symptoms. Screening tests for cervical cancer include:
- Pap tests, also called Pap smears
- HPV (human papillomavirus) tests
These tests can help find cervical cells that are infected with HPV or other abnormal cells before they turn into cervical cancer. Most cervical cancers can be prevented by regular screening and treated with the right follow-up treatment when needed.
Take these steps to prevent cervical cancer.
Schedule your cervical cancer screening test.
Call your provider’s office to schedule your screening test and pelvic exam. Make sure you schedule it for a time when you won’t have your period.
Get ready for your test.
Some things can cause incorrect/inaccurate Pap test results. Ask your provider if you need to follow any special instructions before getting a cervical screening test.
Find out your test results.
When you get screened, ask your provider how you will find out the results. The kind of results you get can vary based on the type of test:
- Pap test results can be “normal”, “unclear”, or “abnormal.”
- HPV test results can be “positive” or “negative.”
It can take weeks to get your results. If you do not hear back within 3 weeks, call your provider. If your Pap test result is “abnormal” or your HPV test is “positive” it is important to get the follow-up care your provider recommends.
How often should I get screened?
How often you need to get screened depends on how old you are and which screening tests you get.
- If you are age 21 to 29, get screened with a Pap test every 3 years.
- If you are age 30 to 65, you have 3 options:
- Get screened every 3 years with a Pap test
- Get screened every 5 years with an HPV test
- Get screened every 5 years with both a Pap test and an HPV test
Talk with your provider about which option is right for you. Some women may need to get screened more often. For example, your provider may recommend that you get screened more often if you have had abnormal test results in the past.
If you are age 66 or older, ask your provider if you need to continue getting screened for cervical cancer.
Lower Your Risk
Get the HPV vaccine.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for women age 26 and younger and for men age 21 and younger. Most people get it as a pre-teen, but if you didn’t get it and you are 26 or younger, talk with your provider about getting it now. The vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most commonly cause cervical cancer. It may also protect against types that can cause other kinds of cancer and genital warts.
Get your well-woman visit every year.
During your visit, talk to your provider or nurse about other important screenings and services to help you stay healthy.