A Pap test can alert women to changes in the cervix that could lead to cancer.
The only way to find cervical cancer is to have a Pap test performed by your health care provider. During a Pap test, a portion of cells are brushed from the cervix onto a slide so that they can be examined under a microscope.
Who should be screened and how often?
According to recommended screening guidelines
- Women 21 years of age and older should have a pelvic exam annually.
- Women 21 to 29 years of age should have a Pap test every three years.
- Women 30 to 65 years of age should have a Pap test every three years, or every five years with HPV co-testing.
- Women who have been vaccinated for HPV should continue to follow the guidelines for their age group.
Women who do not need to be screened:
- Have had their uterus and cervix removed.
- Have no history of cervical cancer or precancer.
What causes cervical cancer?
Women at a higher risk:
- Have an infection from HPV (two-thirds of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV 16 and 18)
- Are obese or overweight
- Smoke (cigarette smoking doubles the risk)
- Eat a diet low in fruits and vegetables
- Have an HIV or a chlamydia infection
- Have had an organ transplant
- Have been exposed to the drug known as DES — a synthetic form of estrogen
- Have used oral contraceptives long-term (five or more years)
- Have had three or more full-term pregnancies (having a full-term pregnancy before the age of 17 doubles the risk compared with a woman whose first pregnancy was at age 25 or later)