Cervical Cancer Screening

Cervical Cancer Screening

Each year, about 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer and more than 4,000 die from the disease. This cancer forms on the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Only those with a cervix (individuals that were born anatomically female) can develop this form of cancer. It typically develops between the ages of 30 and 50 but is not exclusive to this age group.


Who is at increased risk for cervical cancer?

Certain factors may increase the risk of getting cervical cancer. These include:

  • Engaging in sexual activity before age 18
  • Smoking
  • Having a suppressed immune system because of HIV, AIDS or other medical conditions
  • Having been infected with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Having a high number of full-term pregnancies
  • Having a family history of cervical cancer
  • Long-term contraceptive use
Learn more about cervical cancer

Early-stage cervical cancer usually does not have any symptoms, making screening an imperative element in protecting your health.

Your Karmanos specialist will determine what testing is right for you based on your health history, age and habits. Generally, women ages 21-65 should undergo screening. You may complete an HPV test, Pap test or both. These screenings can be completed during one visit.

Pap Testing

The Papanicolaou or Pap test is used to find cell changes or abnormal cells in the cervix. During this test, your health care provider will insert a speculum into the vagina to make the cervix visible. Cells are then swabbed from the cervix and sent to a lab to be examined for irregularities. The Pap test finds cancer cells and cells that could become cancerous in the future.

HPV Testing

HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses and the most commonly sexually transmitted infection in the world. It is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 79 million Americans – one out of every four people – are infected with HPV. Because it is so common, nearly every person who is sexually active will get HPV at some time in their life if they don't get the HPV vaccine. Most people with the virus do not develop symptoms and may never know they are infected. For others, the virus can lead to cervical and other gynecologic cancers or oropharyngeal (middle throat) cancers.

An HPV test checks for the presence of the virus using a swab of the cervix, similar to a Pap test. These two tests may be completed in one visit.

Testing Guidelines

The American Cancer Society recommends the following screening guidelines:

  • Women ages 21-29 years should have a Pap test every three years.
  • Women ages 30-65 years should have a Pap test and an HPV test every five years.
  • Women over 65 years of age who have had no abnormal tests do not need to be screened.
  • Women who have had a hysterectomy do not need to be screened.

These guidelines may vary based on your individual history. A Karmanos provider will help you determine what tests are needed and how often you should be screened. You do not need a referral to be seen for Pap and HPV testing at Karmanos.

HPV Vaccine

A vaccine is available to aid in the prevention of HPV. The CDC estimates that vaccination can reduce more than 90 percent of the cancers caused by HPV every year. Therefore, HPV vaccination is recommended for females and males at age 11 or 12 years (or can be started as early as nine). HPV vaccination is recommended for everyone through 26 years of age, if not previously vaccinated.

Learn more about the HPV vaccine

Preparing for your appointment

For the most accurate results and comfortable experience, please follow these guidelines:

  • Do not schedule your pap test during your menstrual period. The best time to schedule an appointment is five or more days after your period stops.
  • Do not insert anything into the vagina for two to three days before your appointment. Avoid tampons, lubricants and medication that is taken vaginally.
  • Do not douche for two to three days before your appointment.
  • Do not engage in vaginal sex for two days before your appointment.
  • Empty your bladder before the test.

Appointment Information

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If you are a woman between 40-64 years of age who is uninsured or underinsured, you may qualify for free breast and cervical screenings through the Michigan Breast & Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP). Women ages 21-39 may qualify as well. Learn more about this program here.