Cervical Cancer Screening

Cervical cancer affects women worldwide. Fortunately, it is one of the easier cancers to prevent and treat. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are two screening tests to help detect the cancer while in its early stages:

  • The Pap smear – looks for precancer cells – can be done in your Dr.’s office – it is one of the most reliable and effective cancer screenings
  • The HPV test – looks for the human papillomavirus (HPV)

Screening has been shown to decrease the number of deaths from cervical cancer and is recommended for all women between the ages of 21 and 65 to be screened every 3 years. During the Pap test, doctors examine the vagina and the cervix to collect a few cells, which are then sent to the pathology lab for review.

Screening is defined as looking for cancer prior to a person experiencing any symptoms. When abnormal tissue or cancerous cells are discovered early, the cancer may be easier to treat and involve fewer complications.

Regular Pap tests should begin at age 21. Please be aware the Pap test does not test for uterine, ovarian, vaginal or vulvar cancers – only cervical cancer.

If you are over age 30, you may opt to have an HPV test in addition to a Pap smear. Both of these exams can be done at the same time in your physician’s office. With normal test results, the chances of you getting cervical cancer is low. Results may take about three weeks. If the results show anything abnormal, your physician will contact you for a follow-up plan.

If you are older than age 65, with consistent normal Pap test results or if you have had a total hysterectomy for non-cancerous conditions, your doctor may say you no longer need pap tests.

Cervical cancer screening detects precancerous lesions and early-stage disease, the treatment of which decreases the incidence of cervical cancer and cervical cancer mortality, respectively. While cytologic screening for cervical cancer with Papanicolaou (Pap) test has never been evaluated in a randomized trial, multiple observational studies in various countries have shown reductions in cervical cancer incidence and mortality as screening is implemented. This has led to the adoption of screening programs in all developed and many developing nations worldwide, (Cervical cancer screening programs. Epidemiology and natural history of carcinoma of the cervix. Can Med Assoc J. 1976;114(11):1003).

Common symptoms of cervical cancer include:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pain

Cervical cancer screening does come with a few risks. The results can sometimes be false which require you to have needless follow-up exams and anxiety. But the benefits far outweigh the risks. Please discuss with your physician, your risk for cervical cancer, the advantages and disadvantages of the screening tests, at what age to get screened, and how often to be screened.


This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualifies health provider before making any health, medical or other decisions based upon the data contained herein. Information provided is for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professionals.

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