Woman talking with doctor
October 15, 2018 | by Crystal Houlton MD, FACOG

The number of deaths due to cervical cancer has decreased by 50 percent in the last 30 years thanks to the success of screening with Pap tests, according to the American Cancer Society. The threat remains however. Every day in the U.S. 30 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and nearly 4,000 women are expected to die from it this year. That’s why it’s important that you make regular cervical cancer screening part of your regular preventive care or well woman visits.

How Cervical Cancer Screening is Done

Pap testing is the easiest way for doctors to check for abnormal cell growth, before they become cancerous and spread. A Pap test involves collecting cells from a woman’s cervix and examining them under a microscope to look for abnormalities. To collect these cells a woman lies on an exam table and her care provider inserts a speculum into her vagina, allowing them to see the cervix and take a sample of the cervical cells for Pap analysis.

When Women Should Start Screening

According to guidelines released by the United States Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society in 2012, women should have their first Pap test done at age 21. Adolescents have a very low risk of cervical cancer and a high likelihood that cervical cell abnormalities will go away on their own. As a result, earlier screening is not recommended, regardless of age of first intercourse.

How Often Women Should be Screened

Generally, it is recommended that women ages 21 through 29 have a Pap test done every three years. Women ages 30 through 65 can choose to have a Pap test done every three years or do co-testing with high-risk HPV testing and a Pap done every five years. Women age 65 and older with no history of cervical changes do not need screening. Women of all ages with certain risk factors, such as HIV, being immunosuppressed, or having a previous Pap that showed precancerous cells, may need more frequent screening or continue past the age of 65.

For more information about cervical cancer screening, ask your gynecologist or call our Obstetrics & Gynecology department at 206-860-4541.

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