The incidence of cervical cancer in the United States has decreased due to widespread screening with pap smears, a test used to detect precancerous cells before they progress into cancer. Screening for cervical cancer may also involve testing for human papilloma virus (HPV), the virus that is linked to cervical cancer.
Most cervical cancer cases occur in women with either no previous screening or inadequate screening. In 2012, the American Cancer Society, The American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology and American Society for Clinical Pathology updated their joint guidelines for screening. The current guidelines are to start screening for cervical cancer with pap smears at age 21. For women 21–29 years old, we perform pap smears once every three years, which differs from the previous annual testing. For women 30–65 years old, we have the option to screen every three years with a pap smear alone or to screen every five years with HPV testing in addition to a pap smear (cotesting).
These screening recommendations are not meant for women with a known history of cervical cancer or certain immunocompromised states. Talk with your doctor to determine the appropriate screening interval for you.
Although we may no longer routinely perform pap smears every year, we still recommend a yearly examination. Cervical cancer is both preventable and better-treated if detected early. The FDA has approved an HPV vaccination for both males and females aged 9–26 with a target age range of 11–12 so they are protected before ever being exposed to the virus. If your teen hasn’t gotten the vaccine yet or if you have any questions regarding the vaccine, talk to their doctor about getting it for them as soon as possible.