Cervical Cancer Awareness: When to start screening?

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    No woman should die of cervical cancer. The most important thing you can do to help prevent cervical cancer is to get screened regularly starting at age 21.

    Cervical cancer is highly preventable with regular screening tests and appropriate follow-up care. It also can be cured when found early and treated. Cervical cancer is almost always caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Vaccines are available to protect against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical cancer.

    Screening Tests

    Two tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early—

    • The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, which are cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.
    • The HPV test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.

    The Pap test is recommended for women between ages 21 and 65, and can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic. Women should start getting Pap tests regularly at age 21. If your Pap test results are normal, your doctor may say you can wait three years until your next Pap test. If you are 30 years old or older, you may choose to have an HPV test along with the Pap test. Both tests can be performed by your doctor at the same time. If your test results are normal, your chance of getting cervical cancer in the next few years is very low. Your doctor may then say you can wait as long as five years for your next screening.

    If you have a low income or do not have health insurance, you may be able to get a free or low-cost Pap test through CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Find out if you qualify. Also, a list of clinics that offer free or low-cost pap smears is available here.

    HPV Vaccine

    Boys and girls should get all three doses of HPV vaccine when they are 11 or 12 years old. If a teen or young adult (through age 26) has not started or finished the series of three HPV vaccine shots, it’s not too late! Make an appointment today to get your child vaccinated. If you don’t have insurance, or your insurance does not cover vaccines, CDC’s Vaccines for Children program may be able to help.


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