Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines

January 20, 2016 | Health Advice | By: Naomi Wyatt

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (the physician group who cares exclusively for
women and women’s health) has recently issued new screening guidelines for cervical cancer. Cervical
cancer screening is frequently referred to as a Pap test, and it is used to find changes in the cells of the
cervix that could lead to cancer. Many of us remember when Paps were recommended when you
turned 18 or before being started on birth control of any kind, and when you had to have them done
every year but this is not the case any longer. Let’s go over the new recommendations.


It is now recommended to start having cervical cancer screening at age 21. Women aged 21-29 should
then have a Pap test every 3 years if the results are normal. Women aged 30-65 years should have Pap
test and HPV (human papillomavirus) test (co-testing) every 5 years as the preferred method of
screening, though it is acceptable to have a Pap test alone every 3 years. Co-testing does not involve
anything different from the patient perspective, the lab analyzing the sample of cells just looks for HPV
when they examine the sample. [HPV is the virus that causes many cervical cancers, and we are now
vaccinating boys and girls starting at age 11 against the worst strains of this virus to decrease the
amount of cancer we see.] Women can stop having cervical cancer screening after age 65 if there is no
history of moderate or severe cervical changes or cervical cancer, and if you have had either three
negative Pap tests in a row or two negative co-tests in a row within the past 10 years.
If there is any abnormality noted on a Pap the recommendations for follow up will change-the
recommendations discussed above are just for routine screening when nothing abnormal is noted.
Follow up may be simply a repeat Pap test, an HPV test, or a more detailed examination called a
colposcopy (looking at the cervix through a microscope and often taking a sample of cells). Your
provider will discuss with you what the best course of action will be for you.
To help make sure that your cervical cancer screening test results are as accurate as they can be you
should avoid douching, sexual intercourse, and using vaginal medications or hygiene products for 2 days
before your test. You should also not have screening done while you are on your menstrual period.

Article By: Beth Oller, MD