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Screening for Cervical Cancer

The purpose of screening is early diagnosis and treatment. Screening tests are administered to people without current symptoms, but who may be at risk for certain diseases or conditions.

Cervical cancer deaths have decreased over 50% in the last 30-40 years thanks to early detection and treatment. This is mostly due to increased availability of Pap and human papillomavirus (HPV) testing.

Screening Guidelines

If you are a healthy woman without prior cervical intraepithelial neoplasia 2 (CIN 2) or higher, many professional organizations recommend:

  • A Pap test every 3 years for women aged 21-29 years.
  • A Pap AND HPV test every 5 years for women aged 30-65 years. It is your option to continue with Pap testing every 3 years if you choose to do so.
  • For women aged 65 years and older—Stop having Pap and HPV tests if you had regular results for a consecutive period of time. An example would be 3 normal test results in a row and no abnormal results in the past 10 years.

Pap tests may be recommended more often if you have abnormal results or certain conditions, such as:

  • Suppressed immune system from a health condition (such as HIV) or medications
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) in utero—an estrogen-like substance that was given to prevent miscarriages in high-risk pregnancies
  • History of cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer

Talk to your doctor about the right screening schedule for you.

Screening Tests

Screening tests to help detect cervical cancer include:

  • Pap test—A brush or stick is used to collect samples of cells in and around the cervix. The samples are examined under a microscope to look for abnormal growth or cancer.
  • HPV test—The same sample of cells taken for a Pap test can be used to detect HPV infection.
  • Pelvic exam—A thorough, manual evaluation of the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. A Pap test, as well as other samples to detect sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can be done during a pelvic exam.


Cervical cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated June 5, 2017. Accessed January 29, 2018.
Cervical cancer screening (PDQ). National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated April 14, 2016. Accessed January 29, 2018.
Saslow D, Soloman D, Lawson H, et al. American Cancer Society, American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, and American Society for Clinical Pathology screening guidelines for the prevention and early detection of cervical cancer. CA Cancer J Clin. 2012;62(3):147-172.
Last reviewed December 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 11/17/2015


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