The cervix is the lower end of the uterus that connects with the vagina. Cancer of the cervix develops slowly. Many women do not have symptoms.
Regular Pap tests can prevent cervical cancer. They find cells that can be treated before they become cancer. Pap tests can also find signs of cancer early to stop it from spreading.
If all women who need Pap tests got them, almost all deaths from cervical cancer could be prevented. Pap tests save lives.
What is a Pap Test?
A Pap test is part of a routine pelvic exam. The doctor takes a small sample from the cervix to be examined at a laboratory.
Who Should Get Pap Tests?
Women 18 and older who have ever been sexually active should get a Pap test. A test is needed every 1 to 3 years. How often depends on your risk factors and past test results. If you have an abnormal test, it is essential to get follow-up care.
Women over 65 may no longer need Pap tests if recent tests have been normal. Also, if they are not at higher risk for cervical cancer.
A woman who has had a total hysterectomy no longer needs Pap tests. An exception is if the surgery was done as a treatment for cervical cancer or pre-cancer.
What are the Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?
Most cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection.
Tell your doctor if you:
- Had cervical cancer in the past
- Have had sex with many partners. Or, you had a partner who has had sex with many partners
- Have had a sexually transmitted infection
- Smoke cigarettes
How to Reduce Your Risk for Cervical Cancer.
- Get regular Pap and human papilloma virus (HPV) tests. They are well proven ways to prevent cervical cancer
- Limit your number of sex partners
- Use condoms. They can help protect you from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, including HPV
- Quit smoking. It reduces the risk of many other cancers too
Pap tests are covered by most insurance plans. Pap tests, HIV tests, and exams and treatment for other sexually transmitted diseases are available for no-cost at Health Department STD clinics. Some of these tests do not need consent of a partner or parent (even for teenagers under 18).
For More Information:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- National Cancer Institute
- American Cancer Society or call 1-800-ACS-2345 (1-800-227-2345)
- National Cervical Cancer Coalition or call 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237)
- Gynecologic Cancer Foundation