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Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines

When you have regular well-woman exams, your gynecologist may be able to detect early signs of cervical cancer. At Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center, our gynecologic oncologists expertly identify and treat cervical cancer.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) testing and Pap tests (or Pap smears) can reveal warning signs of cervical cancer. Getting screened can help safeguard your health.

What you need to know about cervical cancer and screening

  • Cervical cancer is gynecological cancer that affects the female reproductive system. It develops inside the cervix, the lower end of the uterus.
  • The HPV virus leads to a large percentage of cervical cancers. The HPV vaccine protects against several strains that have been shown to cause cervical and other cancers.
  • Pelvic exams and Pap tests can detect and remove a type of abnormal cells (called dysplasia) before they develop into cervical cancer. It’s important to see your gynecologist yearly. Your doctor can spot potentially concerning symptoms at early stages.
  • If you have cervical cancer, you’re in expert hands at Mays Cancer Center. Our gynecologic oncologists use surgical robots and high-tech radiation technologies to treat cervical cancer in innovative ways. We support you throughout your care. Learn more about our gynecologic oncology program.

Cervical cancer screening guidelines

By knowing your body, you can protect your health at home. Look for changes, like unusual bleeding or a heavier than normal menstrual flow. Alert your gynecologist if you notice any concerning symptoms. Early intervention can help doctors detect health problems (including cancer) at early stages.

We follow these cervical cancer screening recommendations for women at average risk for cervical cancer:

  • In their 20s: Women ages 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every three years.
  • In midlife: Women ages 30 to 64 should receive Pap and HPV tests every five years (or a Pap test every three years if you don’t get the HPV test).
  • In older age: Women older than 65 should talk with their gynecologist about cervical cancer screening. If your Pap and HPV tests have been normal for at least 10 years and you have no history of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, you may not need regular screenings.
  • Who have had a hysterectomy (not related to cervical cancer): If your hysterectomy did not remove your cervix, we recommend you continue getting Pap and HPV tests every five years. If surgery removed your cervix, talk with your gynecologist about whether you still need cervical cancer screening.

Women at increased cervical cancer risk

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of developing cancer. Our doctors use this information when deciding when or how often you may benefit from cervical cancer screenings.

You may be at increased risk for cervical cancer if you have:

  • Cervical dysplasia, a type of abnormal, precancerous cells in the cervix
  • Certain types of HPV infections (that don’t go away) after age 30
  • Weakened immune system, such as due to an organ transplant or immune-suppressant medications
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure before birth

Having had cervical cancer increases your risk of having it again.

If you have any of the above risk factors, reach out to your doctor to discuss the right cervical cancer screening approach for you. Your doctor may recommend you get screened sooner, more often or using different tests.