The Pap test is one of the great success stories in early detection. A swab of the cervix can reveal abnormal cells, often before cancer appears. At age 21, women should start having a Pap test every three years. From age 30 to 65, women who get both a Pap test and an HPV test can go up to five years between testing. But women at higher risk may need testing more often, so it's best to check with your doctor. Skipping tests raises your risk for invasive cervical cancer.
Of note: You'll still need Pap tests after getting the HPV vaccine because it doesn't prevent all cervical cancers.
WHAT IF YOUR PAP TEST IS ABNORMAL?
If test results show a minor abnormality, you may need a repeat Pap test. Your doctor may schedule a colposcopy -- an exam with a lighted magnifying device -- to get a better look at any changes in the cervical tissue and also take a sample to be examined under a microscope. If abnormal cells are precancerous, they can then be removed or destroyed. Treatments are highly successful in preventing precancerous cells from developing into cancer.
EARLY DETECTION: HPV DNA TEST
In some cases, doctors may offer the option of the HPV DNA test in addition to a Pap test. This test checks for the presence of high-risk forms of HPV. It may be used in combination with a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer in women over 30. It may also be recommended for a woman of any age after an abnormal Pap test result.
WHO SHOULD GET THE HPV VACCINE?
The vaccines are only used to prevent, not treat, HPV infection. They’re most helpful if you get the shots before you start having sex. The vaccine is typically given to people when they’re 9-26 years old. The CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for all boys and girls at age 11 or 12.