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reviewed 9/6/2018

Pap and HPV tests: True or false?

Every year around 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States. Fortunately, Pap and HPV tests help doctors catch it early, when it's easier to treat. How much do you know about cervical cancer screening?

True or false: Women need a Pap test every year.

False. Women ages 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years. Starting at age 30, they can continue with every 3 years or switch to both an HPV test and Pap test every 5 years.

True or false: Once you've had the HPV vaccine, you no longer need regular Pap tests.

False. All women between ages 21 and 65 need to have regular cervical screening tests. This doesn't change if you've had the HPV vaccine. Regular Pap tests greatly reduce the chances of dying from cervical cancer.

True or false: Pap tests are especially important for women over 65.

False. While cervical cancer can strike women at any age, it is most often diagnosed between the ages of 35 and 44. Vaccinations, regular Pap tests and HPV tests all play an important role in prevention. However, women over 65 who have had normal results likely don't need to continue to be screened.

True or false: Pap tests have greatly reduced the number of cervical cancer deaths.

True. Cervical cancer usually does not present symptoms until its advanced stages. This made early detection extremely challenging before the Pap test became widespread. The test has greatly reduced both the number of cases of cervical cancer and the number of deaths from cervical cancer since the 1950s.

True or false: If you've had a hysterectomy, you don't need Pap tests any longer.

False. Some women may be able to stop cervical cancer screening after a hysterectomy, but some should not. It depends on a number of factors, including whether or not the cervix was removed and your personal history of cancer or abnormal cells. Talk to your doctor about what's best for you.

Learn more about the HPV vaccine, and find out what else you can do to reduce your risk of cervical cancer at every stage in your life.

Cervical cancer prevention

Sources: National Cancer Institute; Office on Women's Health

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