Pap and hpv tests womenshealth.gov

• The Pap test may not find abnormal cells that are actually there. This means your doctor may tell you your cervical cells are normal, but the test missed a problem with the cells. This can delay the discovery and treatment of abnormal cells of the cervix. But having regular Pap tests increases your chances of finding problems. Cervical cancer usually takes many years — on average 10 to 20 years — to develop. 7 If a Pap test misses abnormal cells, your doctor or nurse will probably find them on your next Pap test. Therefore, it is important to have Pap tests on the recommended schedule for your age and medical history.

• The Pap test results may report abnormal cells that are not really there. This means your doctor may tell you that your cervical cells are abnormal, but they are actually normal. There is no way to know that the cells are normal without further testing. Therefore, your doctor may do another Pap test or a different test to find out more. If the next Pap test or other test comes back normal, you don’t have to do anything until your next Pap test is scheduled.

• Get the HPV vaccine. Cervical cancer is usually caused by types of HPV that are passed from person to person through genital contact. Most women do not have symptoms of HPV, and HPV sometimes goes away on its own. If HPV does not go away on its own, it can cause changes in the cells of the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine prevents you from getting most cancer-causing types of HPV. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the HPV vaccine for people ages 9 through 45.

• Use condoms. Condoms are the best way to prevent STIs when you have sex. HPV can happen in female and male genital areas that are not protected by condoms. But research shows that condom use is linked to lower cervical cancer rates. 9,10 Also, the HPV vaccine does not replace or decrease the need to wear condoms. Make sure to put the condom on before the penis touches the vagina, mouth, or anus. Other methods of birth control, like birth control pills, shots, implants, or diaphragms, will not protect you from HPV or other STIs.

Pap tests (or Pap smears) look for cancers and precancers in the cervix. Precancers are cell changes that can be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). If not treated, these abnormal cells could lead to cervical cancer. An HPV test looks for HPV in cervical cells. Most women 21 to 65 years old need to get Pap tests or a Pap test and HPV test together. Not all women need to be tested every year. What is a Pap test?

• You are living with HIV. Women who are living with HIV (the virus that leads to AIDS) are at higher risk of cervical cancer and other cervical diseases because of a weakened immune system. All women living with HIV should get an initial Pap test at the time of the HIV diagnosis and a second Pap test (or Pap and HPV test if you are older than 30) 12 months later. Some experts recommend a second Pap test or Pap and HPV test 6 months later, so talk to your doctor or nurse. After three normal Pap tests in a row, women living with HIV can get follow-up Pap tests every 3 years. 5

Before the test, while you are still fully clothed, tell your doctor or nurse that you’ve been assaulted in the past and that you have concerns about the test. It may be difficult to lie on an exam table with your legs in footrests (cradles for your feet that help keep your legs bent and open) or to have a doctor or nurse put a speculum (a tool that helps your doctor or nurse see your cervix) into your vagina. Your doctor or nurse will talk with you about ways to make the Pap or HPV test easier. How do I prepare for a Pap or HPV test?

You do not have to do anything special to prepare for a Pap or HPV test. Also, you should not douche before a Pap or HPV test. Most doctors do not recommend douching for any reason. You also should not put anything in or around your vagina to clean it, other than soap and water on the outside of your vagina. Can I get a Pap or HPV test when I am having my period?

Your doctor or nurse can do a Pap test in the exam room of a doctor’s office. You will lie down on your back on an exam table. You will place your feet on either side of the table in footrests (cradles for your feet that help keep your legs bent and open). Your doctor or nurse will put a tool called a speculum into your vagina (you may feel pressure) and will open it to see your cervix.

Your doctor or nurse will use a special stick or soft brush to take a few cells from the surface of and inside your cervix and vagina. Your doctor or nurse will put the cells on a glass slide or in a small container and send them to a lab for testing. If your doctor or nurse orders an HPV test, the cells taken for your Pap test are tested for HPV at the same time.

• Abnormal. The cells collected from your cervix during your Pap test look abnormal. Abnormal Pap test results do not mean you have cancer, so your doctor must do other tests to find out what should happen next. Your doctor may do another Pap test right away or, if the cell changes are minor, wait 6 months or a year before doing another Pap test. If the test finds more serious changes in the cells of your cervix, your doctor will do more tests, such as a colposcopy and biopsy.

• The Pap test may not find abnormal cells that are actually there. This means your doctor may tell you your cervical cells are normal, but the test missed a problem with the cells. This can delay the discovery and treatment of abnormal cells of the cervix. But having regular Pap tests increases your chances of finding problems. Cervical cancer usually takes many years — on average 10 to 20 years — to develop. 7 If a Pap test misses abnormal cells, your doctor or nurse will probably find them on your next Pap test. Therefore, it is important to have Pap tests on the recommended schedule for your age and medical history.

• The Pap test results may report abnormal cells that are not really there. This means your doctor may tell you that your cervical cells are abnormal, but they are actually normal. There is no way to know that the cells are normal without further testing. Therefore, your doctor may do another Pap test or a different test to find out more. If the next Pap test or other test comes back normal, you don’t have to do anything until your next Pap test is scheduled.

• Get the HPV vaccine. Cervical cancer is usually caused by types of HPV that are passed from person to person through genital contact. Most women do not have symptoms of HPV, and HPV sometimes goes away on its own. If HPV does not go away on its own, it can cause changes in the cells of the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine prevents you from getting most cancer-causing types of HPV. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the HPV vaccine for people ages 9 through 45.

• Use condoms. Condoms are the best way to prevent STIs when you have sex. HPV can happen in female and male genital areas that are not protected by condoms. But research shows that condom use is linked to lower cervical cancer rates. 9,10 Also, the HPV vaccine does not replace or decrease the need to wear condoms. Make sure to put the condom on before the penis touches the vagina, mouth, or anus. Other methods of birth control, like birth control pills, shots, implants, or diaphragms, will not protect you from HPV or other STIs.