For women, cervical cancer screenings are a really important part of maintaining whole health. In fact, cervical cancer screenings can prevent cervical cancer by detecting pre-cancerous cells, and even early stage cancer when it is most treatable.
But while most women are aware cervical cancer screenings are recommended, many are understandably confused about when to get them — and even what type of test they should get. This is because the recommendations have changed over the years, with new guidelines just recently released.
So, how can these guidelines affect your screening protocol?
We want to help you feel empowered about your health, so here’s a summary of the American Cancer Society’s new cervical cancer screening guidelines and how they may affect your prevention plan.
New Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines
First, it’s important to point out that these cervical cancer screening guidelines are for women with an average risk and with a cervix. Women at high risk may have a more personalized screening schedule recommended by their doctor. And, for women with a history of a noncancer-related hysterectomy, these recommendations may not apply.
With the new guidelines, two of the most important updates are the type of screening test and what age to start. Instead of the once standard Pap smear, it’s now preferred to do a primary HPV test every 5 years starting at age 25 (changing from age 21) and up to age 65.
Because the primary HPV tests are newly approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), they may not be widely accessible yet. So, until the primary HPV test becomes available to all, these two tests are alternative options:
- A combined HPV and Pap test every 5 years, or
- A single pap test every 3 years.
And for those that have had the HPV vaccine, it’s still important to continue cervical cancer screenings as stated above.
Another important call-out to the new recommendations is for those age 65 and older. Now, those in this age group who have had normal cervical cancer screening results for the last 10 years don’t need further screening.
Why Cervical Cancer Screenings Are Important
Cervical cancer screenings are important because they provide the opportunity to identify pre-cancerous cells and remove them before they turn into cancer. They can also help find cancer in its early stages, when treatments are most successful.
The new recommendations shifted from the pap test to the primary HPV test because, according to the American Cancer Society, almost all cervical cancers are caused by a few specific strains of HPV (human papilloma virus).
While the pap smear looks for precancerous cells in the cervix, the primary HPV screening is better at identifying pre-cancerous cells infected by the types of HPV most likely to cause cervical cancer.
The hope is with widespread HPV vaccination and cervical cancer screening, cervical cancer could be eliminated for all women.
What to Expect at Your Cervical Cancer Screening
Whether you have the primary HPV screening test or the Pap smear screening, the process is relatively the same.
For both tests, you’ll be asked to wear a gown and lay down on an exam table. Then, your healthcare provider will use a small tool to gently scrape or brush the cervix and collect a small sample of cells. This sample can be used for both the Pap smear test and primary HPV test.
Your provider will give you your results after the lab processes your test(s). The timing can be dependent on what test you take and what lab is used to process it.
Schedule Your Cervical Cancer Screening Today
When the prevention guidelines change, it’s always a good idea to check in with your trusted women’s care provider. This is a great opportunity to talk about how the new guidelines may affect your personalized cervical cancer screening plan.
It’s also a good time to talk about other aspects of your whole health and prevention strategies. If you need help, you can find a trusted women’s care provider to guide your journey here.