One Simple Test Can Save Your Life

One Simple Test Can Save Your Life

It’s pretty much a given that the annual well-woman exam is not any woman’s most favorite thing to do for her health. Most hug the line on whether to have one, with one foot firmly planted on the side of dreading the exam and the other on the side of knowing it can prevent cervical cancer.

Pap Tests

One test that’s part of well-woman screenings is the Pap test, an easy test that checks for cancer in the cervix. Because cervical cancer is a slow-growing type of cancer, having the Pap test can catch problems before they become cancer or early enough to treat it.

Once one of the most common causes of cancer deaths for American women, cervical cancer is now among the easiest gynecological cancers to prevent and treat.

The Pap test is an effective test because it can find:

  • Pre-cancerous growths that can be removed before they become cancer
  • Cancer early enough to treat it, even before you have symptoms. When detected at an early stage, the five-year survival rate is over 90 percent.

A steady drop in the number of deaths from cervical cancer shows that more women are making the right choice by having the test. 

Who Should Get Tested?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends cervical cancer screenings leaving site icon for all women starting at age 21, using the following timing:

  • Women aged 21 to 29 years every three years
  • Women aged 30 to 65 years, Pap test with HPV test every five years
  • Women who have had a hysterectomy or are over age 65, talk with your doctor
Get Screened

Are you due for your annual exam? Pap tests are one easy way to protect yourself. Talk with your doctor and schedule regular screenings.

You Can Prevent One Cause of Cervical Cancer

HPV, short for human papillomavirus, can lead to cancer of the cervix and can also cause vaginal and vulvar cancers.

HPV is actually a group of more than 150 viruses. It is so common that nearly all people will get at least one HPV virus at some point in their lives.

Screening for HPV can let your doctor know if you are likely to get cancer from HPV. Problems can be found and treated before they turn into cancer. For women ages 30 and older, the HPV test can be used along with the Pap test.

There is a vaccine that can prevent infection from the types of HPV that most commonly cause cancer. It is recommended for both boys and girls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting the vaccine around the age of 11 or 12, but it can be given later — up to age 26 for women and age 21 for men.

Sources: Cervical Cancer: Screening, leaving site icon U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, 2018; Key Statistics for Cervical Cancer, leaving site icon American Cancer Society, 2022; Gynecologic Cancers-What I should Know About Screening, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2021; Human Papillomavirus (HPV): For Parents, leaving site icon CDC, 2021

Originally published  1/13/2020, Revised 2021; Reviewed 2022

  • Facing the annual well-woman exam can indeed be a mix of emotions for many women. It's completely understandable to have reservations about it, given the discomfort it can bring. However, it's reassuring to know that this exam plays a crucial role in preventive healthcare, particularly in the context of cervical cancer. It's a small step that can lead to significant protection and early detection. So, learn more while it might not be a favorite, it's a step that empowers us to prioritize our health and well-being.