Cervical cancer can affect any woman who is or has been sexually active. It is much more likely to occur in women who have a virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is passed on through sex. Cervical cancer is also more likely to occur in women who smoke, have HIV or AIDS, are older and haven't had regular Pap testing. But any woman who has had sex can get cervical cancer.
A Pap test can find changes in the cervix that can be treated before they become cancerous. The Pap test is also very effective in finding cervical cancer early, when it is highly curable.
The American Cancer Society recommends the following:
- Women should begin cervical cancer testing about three years after they begin having vaginal intercourse, but no later than 21 years of age. Testing should be done every year with the regular Pap test or every two years using the newer liquid-based Pap test.
- Beginning at age 30, women who have had three normal Pap test results in a row may get tested every two to three years with either type of Pap test. But some doctors may suggest that testing be done more often if a woman has certain conditions such as HIV or a weak immune system.
- Women older than 30 may also get tested every three years with either type of Pap test or with the new HPV DNA test.
- Women 70 or older who have had three or more normal Pap tests in a row and no abnormal Pap test results in the past 10 years may choose to stop cervical cancer testing.
- Testing after a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) is not necessary unless the surgery was done as a treatment for cervical cancer or precancerous condition.
- A Pap test is important because it can find abnormal cervical cell changes before they have a chance to become cancerous. When these cancer cells are found early, there is a greater cancer cure rate.
- The best defense against cancer is early detection. Knowing about these cancers and what you can do can save your life.