Cervical Cancer Screening & Tests

Cervical cancer screening exams help find cervical cancer at an early stage. When found early, the chances for successfully treating the disease are greatest.

Along with regular exams, practice awareness. This means you should be familiar with your body. That way you’ll notice changes, like irregular bleeding or discharge. Then, report them to your doctor without delay.

Make sure you get a well-woman checkup every year even if you don’t need a screening exam. If you’ve had the HPV vaccine, you still need to be screened.

The screening recommendations and guidelines below apply to most women.

Age 21 to 29

  • Pap test every three years
  • The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends against screening for cervical cancer for women younger than 21 years of age.

Age 30 to 64

  • Pap test and human papillomavirus (HPV) test every five years (MD Anderson preferred), OR
  • Pap test every three years

Age 65 or older

  • You may not need additional exams if you’ve had no unusual Pap or HPV test results in the past 10 years. Discuss this with your doctor.
  • While there are at-home HPV tests on the market that claim to detect high-risk strains of cervical cancer, a pap test conducted by a doctor is the top recommended screening method.

Exams for women who have had a hysterectomy

If you’ve have had a hysterectomy, but have not had cervical cancer or severe cervical dysplasia, it is recommended that you:

  • Speak with your doctor about whether you should continue screening if your hysterectomy included removal of the cervix.
  • Get a Pap test and HPV test every five years if your hysterectomy didn’t include removal of the cervix.

Exams for women at increased risk

Women at increased risk have a higher chance of getting cervical cancer. This doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get cancer. But, you may need to start screening at an earlier age, get additional tests or be tested more often. You’re at increased risk for cervical cancer if you fall under one or more of these groups.

  • History of severe cervical dysplasia, which is a pre-cancerous condition
  • Persistent HPV infection after age 30
  • An immune system that doesn’t function properly, such as organ transplant recipients and those taking medications to suppress their immune system
  • History of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure before birth