Cervical cancer used to have a grim story. It was once one of the most common causes of cancer death in American women.
That changed when screening for the disease with the Pap test became routine in the 1960s.
Today it’s still vitally important that women continue to get regularly screened for cervical cancer. Why? Because screening offers the best chance to find the disease early, when treatment is most successful.
Also equally important: Screening can actually prevent cervical cancer. Tests can find abnormal changes (precancers) to cells in the cervix so they can be treated before they become cancerous.
Unfortunately, despite these benefits, not all women get screened for cervical cancer. Most cases of the disease are found in women who have never had a screening test or haven’t had one recently.
What tests are available?
There are two screening tests for cervical cancer: the human papillomavirus (HPV) test and the Pap test. Both are done the same way. A special tool is used to gently scrape or brush the cervix for cells to be tested.
The HPV test looks for high-risk types of HPV that are more likely to cause precancers and cancers of the cervix.
The Pap test is used to find cell changes or abnormal cells in the cervix.
When should women get screened?
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that:
- Screening for cervical cancer start at age 25.
- Women ages 25 to 65 have a primary HPV test every 5 years. (A primary HPV test is an HPV test that is done by itself for screening.) If primary HPV testing is not available,screening is recommended with either a test that combines an HPV test with a Pap test every 5 years or a Pap test alone every 3 years.
- Women should stop testing if they’re older than 65 and have had normal test results for many years. Women should also stop testing if they’ve had a total hysterectomy—both the uterus and cervix have been removed—for a noncancerous condition like fibroids.
According to the ACS, the most important thing to remember is to get screened—no matter which test you get.