The Basics: Overview
Getting regular screening tests for cervical cancer (called Pap tests) and follow-up care can help prevent cervical cancer. You can get a Pap test (also called a Pap smear) at your doctor's office or health clinic.
Most deaths from cervical cancer can be prevented if women get regular Pap tests. A Pap test can find abnormal (changed) cells before they turn into cancer. Pap tests can also find cervical cancer early, when it usually can be cured.
How often should I get screened (tested)?
How often you should get screened for cervical cancer depends on how old you are and which tests you get.
- If you are age 21 to 29, get a Pap test every 3 years.
- If you are age 30 to 65:
- Get screened every 3 years if you only have a Pap test.
- Get screened every 5 years if you have both a Pap test and an HPV (human papillomavirus) test.
If you are age 66 or older, ask your doctor if cervical cancer screening is recommended for you.
The Basics: Cervical Cancer
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, which is the lower, narrow part of the uterus (or womb). The cervix connects the uterus to the vagina.
Abnormal cells in the cervix can turn into cancer if they aren't found early and treated. Cervical cancer is more common in women over age 30.
Learn more about cervical cancer and screening:
The Basics: Pap Test
What happens during a Pap test?
A Pap test takes about 2 to 5 minutes. It may feel uncomfortable, but a Pap test usually doesn’t hurt.
While you lie on the exam table, the doctor or nurse will put a medical tool (called a speculum) into your vagina and open it to see your cervix. The doctor or nurse will use a special brush to collect a few cells from your cervix. These cells are sent to a lab to be checked by an expert.
The doctor or nurse will also do a pelvic exam to check your uterus, ovaries, and other organs. Learn how a Pap test is done.