Get Tested for Cervical Cancer

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

Getting regular screenings 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. This means Pap tests can find cervical cancer early, when it usually can be cured.

How often should I get screened (tested)?

Screening 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.

Next section 1 of 5 sections

The Basics: Cervical Cancer

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, which is the low, narrow part that connects the uterus to the vagina.

Picture of a woman's lower reproductive organs including the fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus, vagina, and cervix.

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:

Next section Previous section 2 of 5 sections

The Basics: Pap Test

What happens during a Pap test?

A Pap test takes about 2 to 5 minutes. It may feel uncomfortable, but it 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 some cells from your cervix. These cells will be sent to a lab, where an expert will check them.

The doctor or nurse will also do a pelvic exam to check your uterus, ovaries, and other organs. Learn more about how a Pap test is done.

Next section Previous section 3 of 5 sections

Take Action!

Take Action: Get Tested

Take these steps to help prevent cervical cancer.

Schedule your Pap test.

Call a doctor’s office or health clinic to schedule your Pap test and pelvic exam.

Get ready for your Pap test.

Try to schedule your Pap test for a time when you won’t have your period.

Some things can cause incorrect Pap test results. For 2 days before your test, doctors recommend that you don’t:

  • Use tampons
  • Have sex
  • Use birth control creams, foams, or jellies
  • Douche (rinse the vagina with water or another liquid)
  • Use vaginal deodorant (sprays or powders)

Find out your Pap test results.

When you get a Pap test, ask the doctor how you will find out the results. Pap test results can be "normal," "unclear," or "abnormal." Get help understanding your Pap test result. It usually takes 1 to 3 weeks to get Pap test results.

What about cost?

Testing for cervical cancer is covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get tested at no cost to you.

For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit

Next section Previous section 4 of 5 sections

Take Action: Lower Your Risk

Lower your risk of HPV.

A major cause of cervical cancer is long-term HPV (human papillomavirus) infections. HPV is a very common infection that can spread during sex. Some types of HPV can cause genital and anal warts. Other types of HPV can cause cervical cancer and other cancers.

You are at higher risk of getting HPV if you:

  • Have unprotected sex
  • Have many different sex partners
  • Have a sex partner who has other sex partners

Get more information on HPV infection.

Get the HPV vaccine.

Doctors recommend that women age 26 and younger get the HPV vaccine. The HPV vaccine is given in 3 shots over 6 months. The shots protect against the HPV types that cause most cervical cancer. Find out more about the HPV vaccine.

Girls and boys need the HPV vaccine, too. If you have kids, ask their doctor about the HPV vaccine.

Get your well-woman visit every year.

During your visit, talk to the doctor or nurse about other important screenings and services to help you stay healthy. Find out more about getting your well-woman visit every year.

Previous section 5 of 5 sections