Cancer Services Program

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Bureau of Chronic Disease Control
New York State Department of Health
150 Broadway, Suite 350
Albany, NY 12204-0678

Cervical Cancer Screening Recommendations

There are two screening tests for cervical cancer: the Pap test and the HPV test.

  • The Pap test (or Pap smear) is the main test for cervical cancer and is highly reliable and effective. Talk with your health care provider about how often you should be screened for cervical cancer. It is recommended that every woman begins Pap test screening at age 21 and is screened every two years through age 29. After age 30, if you have had three normal Pap tests in a row, your health care provider may recommend you be screened once every three years. If your Pap test results show cells that are not normal and may become cancer, your health care provider will contact you for follow-up. There are many reasons why Pap test results might not be normal. It usually does not mean you have cancer.
  • The HPV test may be used for screening those aged 30 and over, or for women of any age with abnormal or unclear Pap test results. The test looks for the high-risk types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer. A positive result for high-risk HPV means that you should be followed closely to make sure that abnormal cells do not develop.

Many people confuse pelvic exams with Pap tests, most likely because they are usually done at the same time. The pelvic exam is part of a woman's regular health care. During this exam, the health care provider looks at and feels the reproductive organs. The pelvic exam may help find diseases of the female organs, but it will not find cancer of the cervix at an early stage. To do that, the Pap test is needed.

Talk with your health care provider about how often you should be screened for cervical cancer. Women who may no longer be having sex or who may feel too old to have a child should still have regular Pap tests. Cervical cancer is most often found in women who have not been screened with the Pap test in more than five years or have never been screened at all.

To view the most up to date screening recommendations made by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), visit their website,