Pap testing: Detect potential problems before they become real problems

The best way to find problems early and treat them before they turn into cervical cancer: get screened regularly.

The Pap test is part of screening for cervical cancer. It looks for abnormal cells on your cervix that could turn into cancer over time. That way, abnormal cells can be found and treated before they ever turn into cancer.

Regular screenings have helped decrease the number of deaths from cervical cancer. It used to be the number one cause of cancer deaths in women in the U.S. Now it’s number 15.

But not all women get screened regularly, and it puts them at an unnecessary risk. About half of all cervical cancers occur in women who have never been screened.

What the Pap test detects

Doctors order Pap tests to determine if there are any abnormal cells on the cervix that can cause cancer. In order to perform the test, your physician first must collect a small sample of cells from your cervix. The sample is then examined in a laboratory with a microscope for abnormal cell growth or changes, including cervical cancer.

Co-testing: The benefit of Pap + HPV testing together

Co-testing is cervical cancer screening that includes a Pap and an HPV test at the same time.


When co-testing, the doctor only needs to collect cells once. Conducting the two tests together on women ages 30–65 provides better detection of pre-cancer and cancer itself than Pap or HPV alone.

When to get tested

Experts recommend that most women begin regular Pap testing at age 21. If you are between the ages of 30 and 65, experts prefer that you get a Pap test and an HPV test together to provide the best possible protection against cervical cancer. After age 65, you might not need to be screened. Some women should be tested less or more often.

  Age   Recommended Screening
  Under 21   No screening
  21 - 29   Pap test every 3 years
  30 - 65   Co-testing with Pap and HPV every 5 years
  Over 65   No screening (if low cancer risk)

Talk to your doctor about screening. Your sexual history, your age, and the results of your last cervical cancer screening all help determine how often you should be tested.

Next steps

DoctorRequest a test from your doctor

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