Get Tested for Cervical Cancer

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

Getting regular screenings for cervical cancer can help find abnormal (changed) cervical cells before they turn into cervical cancer. There are 2 kinds of screening tests that can find abnormal cervical cells:

  • Pap tests, also called Pap smears
  • HPV (human papillomavirus) tests

Most deaths from cervical cancer can be prevented if women get regular cervical screenings and follow-up care.

How often should I get screened (tested)?

Screening for cervical cancer depends on how old you are and which screening tests you get.

If you are age 21 to 29, get screened with a Pap test every 3 years.

If you are age 30 to 65:

  • Get screened every 3 years if you have a Pap test only.
  • Get screened every 5 years if you have both a Pap test and an HPV test.

Some people may need to get screened more often. For example, your doctor may recommend that you get screened more often if you’ve had abnormal test results in the past.

If you are age 66 or older, ask your doctor if you need to continue regular cervical cancer screening. 

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 of the uterus 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 and treated. Cervical cancer is most commonly found in women age 35 to 44.

What causes cervical cancer?

Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by long-term HPV (human papillomavirus) infections. HPV is a common infection that can spread during sex (vaginal, anal, and oral). 

There are many different types of HPV. Some types can cause genital and anal warts. Other types of HPV can cause cervical cancer and other cancers. Get more information on HPV infection.

Learn more about cervical cancer and screening:

Next section Previous section 2 of 5 sections

The Basics: Cervical Screening Tests

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 under a microscope.

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

What happens if I’m also having an HPV test?

If you are having a Pap test and an HPV test, the doctor or nurse won’t need to do an additional exam. They’ll send the same cells to a lab, where an expert will check them for types of HPV that can cause cancer. 

Next section Previous section 3 of 5 sections

Take Action!

Take Action: Get Tested

Take these steps to help prevent cervical cancer.

Schedule your cervical cancer screening test.

Call a doctor’s office or health clinic to schedule your cervical cancer screening test and pelvic exam. Schedule the test for a time when you won’t have your period.

Get ready for your test.

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

  • Use tampons
  • Have sex
  • Douche (rinse the vagina with water or another liquid)
  • Use vaginal deodorant (sprays or powders)

Find out your test results.

When you get screened, ask the doctor how you will find out the results.

The kind of results you get can vary based on the type of test:

  • Pap test results can be "normal," "unclear," or "abnormal." 
  • HPV test results can be “positive” or “negative.” 

It can take up to 3 weeks to get your results. If you don’t hear back by then, call your doctor’s office or clinic. Get help understanding your cervical screening 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 HealthCare.gov.

Next section Previous section 4 of 5 sections

Take Action: Lower Your Risk

Get the HPV vaccine.

The HPV vaccine is recommended for women age 26 and younger and for men age 21 and younger. Most people get it as a pre-teen – but if you didn’t get it and you are 26 or younger, talk with your doctor about getting it now.  

The vaccine protects against the types of HPV that cause almost all cases of cervical cancer. It may also protect against types that can cause other kinds of cancer. Learn more about the HPV vaccine.

Get your child the HPV vaccine.

All girls and boys need to get the HPV vaccine – usually at age 11 or 12. If you have kids, make sure they get 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