Cervical Cancer Screening – Recommendations and What to Expect
Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer deaths for women in the United States. However, there is good news! The death rates have dropped significantly with the increased use of the pap test and HPV testing. Hopefully, the rate will drop even more with widespread use of the HPV vaccine.
Screenings are the best shot at early cervical cancer detection as well as providing the most effective preventative measure. Through the early discovery of abnormal cervical cells and/or high risk HPV, a pap screening may save your life!
So, when should you get one?
The American Cancer Society provides the following guidelines for preventative and early detection cervical cancer care:
- Cervical cancer screening begins at age 21, with women in their 20s getting a pap test every 3 years.
- At the age of 30, women should get a pap test/HPV test combination every 5 years.
- Alternatively, women age 30 to 65 may get a pap test every 3 years.
- Women with a high risk of cervical cancer due to a suppressed immune system or due to DES exposure in utero may need more frequent screenings. (This is a conversation to have with your health care professional for an individualized plan of action.)
- Over 65 years old who have had regular screenings with no signs of pre-cancers (CIN2 or CIN3) may stop getting cervical cancer screenings.
- With a history of CIN2 or CIN3 (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia) should continue to get regular screenings.
- Ladies who have undergone a hysterectomy (cervix and uterus removal) may stop getting regular screenings, unless the hysterectomy was part of treatment for cervical pre-cancer or cancer.
- If you have received an HPV vaccination, you should still follow the American Cancer Society recommendations.
Cervical Cancer Screenings – What to Expect?
Undergoing a Pap smear procedure involves your doctor or healthcare professional collecting cells from your cervix and sending these cells to the lab for evaluation.
First, your doctor will do a physical exam of the vulva to check for HPV. Next, your doctor will use a warmed speculum to open up the walls of your vagina to examine the cervix and obtain cervical cells. That’s it! Your doctor will then send off the cell samples to a lab for testing. The exam portion only takes about 5 minutes.