Cervical Cancer Screening

Women should begin getting Pap tests at age 21 or within three years of having sex for the first time (whichever comes first).

Tests should be done every one to three years after that. Women at high risk of cervical cancer may need to be screened more often. In some cases, even women who have had a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) should be screened. Ask a doctor how often is right for you.

A Pap test is a quick test. The test maybe a bit uncomfortable, but it should not be painful. A doctor or nurse gently slides a speculum into your vagina and then uses a small brush to get a sample of cells from your cervix (the opening to the womb). The sample is sent to a lab to check for changes in the cells. If there is any sign of abnormal changes, your doctor can treat you to remove the abnormal cells and prevent cervical cancer from developing.

Some things to remember about Pap tests:

  • Abnormal results don't always mean cancer will develop. They may be caused by other less serious problems.
  • Pap tests are used to screen for cervical cancer. They don’t screen for any type of sexually transmitted infection.

Click here to hear a podcast featuring Siteman Cancer Center gynecologic oncologist L. Stewart Massad, MD, discussing new cervical cancer screening recommendations.