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Why have a Pap test?
The primary risk factor for cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus, or HPV. An HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, with about 6 million new infections occurring each year in the United States. The value of a Pap test is that it can detect early, "pre-cancerous" changes in cells in the cervix. Cervical cancer usually takes a long time to develop, and if abnormalities are detected early, they can be treated before they develop into cancer. Since the introduction of the Pap test after World War II, the death rate from cervical cancer has decreased by more than 70 percent
Who is at risk?
Cervical cancer tends to occur in midlife. Most cases are found in women younger than 50. It rarely develops in women younger than 20. Almost 20 percent of women with cervical cancer are diagnosed when they are over 65. That is why it is important for older women to continue having regular Pap tests. Pathologists, physicians who identify and diagnose cervical cancer, HPV, and other diseases, know that having regular screening tests is one of the most important things a woman can do to help prevent cervical cancer.
What tests should I have done?
The College of American Pathologists recommends the following screening guidelines:
- Pathologists recommend that every woman should have a regular Pap examination within three years of becoming sexually active or by the age of 21, whichever comes first.
- Beginning at age 30, many women who have had three normal Pap test results in a row may be tested less often - every two to three years. Either the conventional (regular) Pap test or the liquid-based Pap test can be used.
- For women 30 years of age and older, it is appropriate to have both the high risk human papillomavirus (HR-HPV) DNA test and a Pap test at the time of routine screening, as using both tests for women in this age group even further increases the chances for identifying precancerous changes.
- Women who are younger than 30 years of age, however, should not have the combined HPV DNA and Pap test at their routine screening visit. Unlike older women, younger women often have HPV infections, but may never develop cervical cancer.
What is the HPV vaccine?