What You Need to Know About Cervical Cancer Screenings - Virtua Ob/Gyn, NJ

What to Know About Cervical Cancer Screenings

By Rachel Kramer, MD, Obstetrician and Gynecologist—Virtua Ob/Gyn

Ladies, don’t be confused. While annual Pap smears (the test that screens for cervical cancer) may no longer be advised if you have normal test results, you still need an annual pelvic exam.

The Pap smear is only a part of the pelvic exam. During your annual gynecological exam, your doctor also checks for skin cancer, uterine masses, pelvic floor issues, sexually transmitted infections, cervical polyps, breast cancer, and more.

Your annual GYN exam also is a great opportunity to identify and treat conditions early, and talk with your doctor about concerns and health changes. For example, if you’re planning to get pregnant or nearing menopause, your doctor can help you prepare and answer your questions. 

Why is cervical cancer screening important?

Pap smears detect the presence of pre-cancerous cells on the cervix, so the condition can be treated before it has a chance to develop into cervical cancer.

Human papillomaviruses (HPVs) are spread by sexual contact and are so common that nearly everyone has one type of the virus. While there are more than 150 related HPVs, only 14 types cause cancer—two of which are responsible for 90 percent of cervical cancer cases.

What are the cervical cancer screening guidelines?

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF) recommends the following: 

  • A woman should get her first Pap smear at age 21 and continue screening every three years.
  • After age 30, a woman should get a Pap smear every five years.
  • Women age 65 and older who’ve had three normal consecutive Pap smears never need to be tested again. Although, if they're sexually active and change partners, they may want to be tested for other types of STDs.

While these are the general guidelines, there are exceptions. If you have a history of abnormal Pap smears or have been diagnosed with a condition that weakens the immune system, like HIV, you may need to be screened more often. Also, if you're over 65 and have had high levels of cervical abnormality, you may need to continue regular screenings. 

Why did the cervical cancer screening guidelines change in 2018?

For a condition that’s so widespread, it may seem counterintuitive to be screened less often. But, the screening guidelines are based on years of scientific research.

Here’s what we know about cervical cancer screening:

  • The Pap smear is more accurate than ever before.
  • HPVs that cause cancer are slow growing.
  • The body’s immune system can fight off HPVs.
  • More frequent screening can lead to unnecessary treatments.
  • HPV treatments such as cone biopsies or surgical removal can cause complications during pregnancy.

If you have questions or concerns about cervical cancer screening, call your women's health care provider. If you need to schedule your annual pelvic exam, call 888-847-8823.

Updated December 14, 2020

Personal Health Navigator

Women's Health Navigator

A Virtua for Women Health Navigator can help you schedule appointments and find the right services for the exact care you need. Please send us an email if you have any questions.

844-VWOMEN-7 844-VWOMEN-7

You may also like

Put Your Mammogram Appointment on the Top of Your To-Do List Today - Virtua Breast Health, NJ

Put Your Mammogram Appointment on the Top of Your To-Do List Today

Can’t remember the last time you had a mammogram? You're in good company. At least 1 in 4 eligible women don’t get regular breast screenings. Learn why you should schedule your mammogram today.

Read More
3 Changes You Can Make Today to Lower Your Cancer Risk - Virtua Health, NJ

3 Changes You Can Make Today to Lower Your Cancer Risk

The American Cancer Society released new guidelines for how changes in your diet and physical activity can significantly lower your risk for cancer. Start today with these tips.

Read More
Susan’s Pink Highlights Remind Her of Her Triumph Over TWO Types of Cancer - Virtua Health, NJ

Susan's Pink Highlights Remind Her of Her Triumph Over TWO Types of Cancer

The pink highlights in Susan Rosati’s hair remind her of a cancer journey that included treatments for a rare gynecologic cancer AND breast cancer.

Read More
three generations thumb

4 Essential Cancer Screenings

How do you know what cancer screenings to have and when? This guide outlines the appropriate times for four types of routine screenings to reduce your risk.

Read More
Increasing Your Sexual Desire Starts with Expert Conversation

Increasing Your Sexual Desire Starts with Expert Conversation

Low libido is far more common than society portrays. In fact, most women experience decreased desire at some point but are embarrassed to discuss it. It's time to start the conversation.

Read More
Midwifery Myths Debunked

Midwifery Myths Debunked

Virtua certified nurse midwife Anne Londergan explains the role of a midwife and the myths surrounding midwifery services.

Watch Video
Showing 6 of 75