Fight Cervical Cancer: Get a Pap Test

A Pap test is one of the most important screening tests a woman can have.

A routine Pap test can often prevent cervical cancer by detecting cell changes before they turn into cancer. If cervical cancer develops, the Pap test can help find it early, when it's easier to cure.

The Pap test is the single most effective cancer screening test in medical history. Since it was introduced more than 60 years ago, the number of women in the U.S. who die of cervical cancer has dropped by 70 percent.

But thousands of women still don't get routine Pap tests. In fact, most women who get cervical cancer have not been screened in at least 5 years. And about half of them have never been screened.

How is a Pap test done?

The Pap test is simple and quick. It can be done as part of a routine pelvic exam.

During the pelvic exam, the doctor widens the vagina with an instrument called a speculum. Then the doctor uses a brush to take a sample of cells from the cervix. The cell sample is sent to a lab, where it's examined for abnormal changes that could represent or lead to cancer.

A Pap test should be done when you're not menstruating. The best time is between 10 and 20 days after the first day of your period. Also, don't have sex, douche or use any type of vaginal cream for two days before the test. These things could affect your test results.

How often do I need a Pap test?

It depends on your age risk of cervical cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends the following schedule:

  • If you are age 21 to 29, get a Pap test every 3 years.
  • If you are age 30 to 65:
    • Get screened every 3 years if you have only a Pap test.
    • Get screened every 5 years if you have both a Pap test and an HPV test.
  • After age 65, you may be able to stop having Pap tests. Ask your doctor if cervical cancer screenings are recommended for you.
  • If you've had a hysterectomy, ask your doctor if you need to keep getting Pap tests.

Talk with your doctor about the best screening schedule for you.