The Pap and HPV Tests

What is a Pap test?

A Pap test can detect any abnormalities in the cells of the cervix. A Pap test does not detect the HPV virus.

What is an HPV test?

Your doctor may recommend an HPV test if you have an inconclusive or abnormal Pap test result or if you are over age 30. The HPV test can detect the presence of HPV.

How often should women get Pap tests?

The American Cancer Society recommends:

  • 21 years old
    and younger
    First Pap test within 3 years of having vaginal sex or at 21 years of age.
  • 22-29 years old
    Regular Pap test each year or liquid-based Pap test every 2 years.
  • 30-69 years old
    Regular or liquid-based Pap test and the HPV test every 3 years*.
  • 70 years and older
    Women with 3 normal Pap tests in a row and no abnormal test results in last 10 years may stop screening after consulting with doctor.

*Another option for women 30 years and older with 3 normal Pap tests in a row is to have a Pap test every 2 to 3 years. Women should discuss these options with a doctor.

Note: Women whose uterus and cervix were removed may stop cervical cancer screenings, unless the surgery was performed to treat cervical cancer or pre-cancer. Women having had hysterectomies without removal of the cervix should continue to follow the above guidelines.

What do my results mean?

Based on American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology Practice Guidelines, April and September 2009.

  • You have a normal Pap test
    Repeat Pap test in 2–3 years, depending on your doctor's recommendation.
  • You have an inconclusive (ASC-US) Pap test
    If you are over age 21, your doctor will likely suggest the HPV test. Other options include repeating the Pap test at 6 and 12 months or immediate colposcopy*.
  • You have an abnormal Pap test
    To understand why your cells look abnormal, your doctor may perform a colposcopy* and order additional tests.
  • You are 30 years old
    or older
    Repeat the Pap and HPV tests in 3 years and see the doctor each year for general care and other important exams.

*Colposcopy is a procedure to look at your cervix more closely. Usually a sample of tissue (called a biopsy) is taken during the colposcopy.

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