Pap smears and HPV tests are vital tools for cervical cancer screening
Cervical cancer screening is one of the most effective methods for finding precancer and cancer of the cervix. In 2012, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) changed the guidelines for screening. For women ages 21 to 65, screening usually includes a Pap test and HPV testing. The new guidelines may seem confusing, but our team can explain the new screening procedures.
Cervical cancer screening guidelines
Regular cervical cancer screening makes this cancer one of the easiest ones to detect in its earliest, most treatable stages. The gynecologists at Athens ObGyn urge women to ask questions if they find the new recommendations confusing. Here are the current ACOG guidelines for screening.
- Women ages 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every three years. ACOG doesn’t recommend HPV testing in most cases.
- Women ages 30 to 65 should have co-testing, meaning both a Pap test and an HPV test. Some women may opt to have a Pap test alone every three years after they discuss it with our physicians.
- Women over the age of 65 usually don’t need to have screening if they don’t have a history of cervical cancer or moderate or abnormal cells.
Women who are HIV-positive, immune-suppressed, have been exposed to DES in utero or have a cervical cancer history may need testing more often.
What patients need to know about co-testing
For most women, cervical cancer screening involves co-testing, meaning both a Pap test and an HPV test. HPV (human papillomavirus) causes most cases of cervical cancer. During testing, our gynecologists insert a speculum into the vagina to provide a clear view of the upper vagina and cervix. Our physicians gently swab the cervix to obtain a cell sample that they send to a lab for both tests.
The Pap test determines whether any abnormal cells are present in the cervical cell sample, while the HPV test checks for the presence of the HPV virus. Before patients come in for screening, our physicians have a few requests.
- Patients should not use a tampon; douche; have sexual intercourse; use birth control jelly, foam or cream, or apply vaginal medications or cream two days before testing.
- Women also should not schedule screening during their periods.