Cervical Cancer Screening Recommendations

The following screening recommendations have been developed by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). The USPSTF is made up of experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine who review scientific evidence on a broad range of clinical preventive health care services and develop recommendations for primary care clinicians and health systems.

USPSTF Cervical Cancer Screening Recommendations for Women at Average Risk

  • Cervical cancer screening should start at 21 years of age.
  • Women ages 21 to 29 years should have a Pap test every three years.
  • Women ages 30 to 65 years have the choice to get a Pap test every three years, a HR HPV test every five years, or a Pap test and HR HPV test every five years.

Women who are not having sex or who think they're too old to have a child should still have regular cervical cancer screenings. Women who have had the HPV vaccine still need regular screening.

Women can stop getting screened if they are older than 65 and have had normal Pap results for many years. Women who have had their cervix removed during surgery for a non-cancerous reason, such as fibroids, may not need screening.

Women should talk with their health care provider to decide what is best for them.

There are two screening tests that can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early:

  • Papanicolaou test (known as a Pap test or Pap Smear)
    A Pap test looks for changes in cells taken from the cervix and sent to a lab to be looked at under a microscope. It is most often done during a routine pelvic exam. If the 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.
  • High Risk (HR) Human Papillomavirus (HPV) test
    The HR HPV test looks for the high-risk types of this virus that cause most cases of cervical cancer. The HPV test can be done at the same time as the Pap test using either the same sample of cells or a second sample taken right after the Pap test. A positive result for HR HPV means that you should be followed closely to make sure that abnormal cells do not develop. For more information on HPV and HPV vaccine visit:
  • Many people confuse pelvic exams with Pap tests 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, cervical cancer screening tests are needed.

Cervical Cancer Screening and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic caused many people to miss their cervical cancer screening appointment. If you are due for cervical cancer screening, do not wait. Call your health care provider to schedule your appointment as soon as you can. If you are having any symptoms of cervical cancer, call your health care provider right away. Regular screening may prevent cervical cancer or find it early when treatment works best.

Health care providers are taking steps so that important health visits can happen safely. All staff and patients must wear masks and be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before going in the office. Equipment, exam rooms and dressing rooms are cleaned after each patient. Other safety steps may include socially distanced waiting rooms, on-line check in, and more time added between appointments.