What Is Cervical Cancer Screening?

patient undergoing PET scan

Cervical cancer screening can identify changes in the cells of a woman’s cervix that could potentially lead to cancer. When diagnosed and treated in its initial stages, cervical cancer is highly curable. Because the condition typically does not exhibit symptoms until cancer develops and advances, screening that is aimed at early detection and prevention is essential.

How do you screen for cervical cancer?

Some commonly used cervical cancer screening tests that can help prevent cervical cancer, and detect it early when it does occur, include:

  • Pelvic exam – A physician examines and feels the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder and rectum to detect lumps, masses or anything unusual.
  • Pap test – Using a small brush, a physician collects a sampling of cells from the surface of the cervix, which are sent to a lab for testing. The test results can identify cellular changes on the cervix that could progress to cervical cancer if left untreated.
  • HPV (human papilloma virus) test – Similar to a Pap test, an HPV test evaluates a sampling of cells obtained from the cervix. While HPV infections are common, easily treated and not a cause for alarm, some HPV infections can lead to cellular changes and cancer if left untreated. Therefore, a physician might use an HPV test in conjunction with a Pap test for a more complete picture. 

How often should I have cervical cancer screening?

Women are encouraged to start getting Pap tests at age 21. Until age 30, Pap tests should be done every three years, and the HPV test would typically only be done following an abnormal Pap test result. Between ages 30 and 65, women can have a Pap test and HPV test every five years. If just the Pap test is done alone, then it can be every three years. After age 65, your physician may say that you will not need to continue regular screenings if your results have consistently been normal. When a Pap smear detects atypical squamous cells, follow-up testing may be required to determine the underlying cause. Women who have had a hysterectomy and no history of cervical cancer or pre-cancer do not need to be screened. Women at high risk will need more frequent testing.

Women who are interested in cervical cancer screening, have received an abnormal test result or are experiencing symptoms are welcome to consult with the outstanding, board-certified physicians at Moffitt Cancer Center. As a recognized leader in the development of scientific technology for detecting and treating cancer, we offer patients the latest diagnostic techniques as well as a wide range of options for care, including robust clinical trials, in one convenient location.  To learn more about cervical cancer screening, please contact us at 1-888-663-3488. Or, if you prefer, you can complete a new patient registration form. We’ll be pleased to see you with or without a referral.