What Women Need to Know

Answers to women’s common concerns about cervical cancer—

  • Cervical cancers usually take years to develop. If you’re getting screened regularly (every 3 or 5 years), you are extremely unlikely to develop cervical cancer.
  • Most women don’t need a Pap test every year.
  • Women should get screened regularly with Pap test alone (ages 21 to 65), or HPV test alone (ages 30 to 65), or Pap testing with HPV co-testing (ages 30 to 65).
  • Initial screening at age 21 years should be with Pap test alone.
  • If your test results are normal, you can wait 3 years for your next Pap test.
  • When you turn 30, you have a choice—
    • If you are screened with a Pap test alone, and it’s normal, you need to return every 3 years.
    • If you have an HPV test alone or both Pap and HPV tests, and the results are normal, you need to return every 5 years.
  • There are risks to getting too many screening tests. Some abnormalities found on screening will clear on their own and doing too much screening can lead to unnecessary tests and treatments. For example, some treatments may cause problems in pregnancy (like increased risk of preterm birth and low birth weight).
  • Follow up with your doctor if your Pap or HPV test results are not normal.
  • Cervical cancer is highly preventable through screening and HPV vaccination.
Page last reviewed: January 28, 2019