Kaiser Permanente recommends cervical cancer screening for women aged 21-65. Screening can help find cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer if left untreated.
Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, which is the narrow part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. In most cases, cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV is a group of viruses, some of which can cause cervical cancer.
What you should know about HPV:
HPV is common. 8 out of 10 adults will have HPV at some point in their lives.
HPV is transmitted through sexual contact. HPV is most commonly spread during sexual acts with skin-to-skin contact. It often has no sign or symptoms, so the virus can be spread even if you do not know you have it.
Usually, the body clears up HPV on its own. Most HPV infections are fought off by the body’s immune system in 1 to 2 years and go away without causing health problems.
Sometimes, the body does not clear up HPV on its own. When an HPV infection lasts for 10 to 20 years or more, there is an increased chance that cellular changes in the cervix could lead to cervical cancer.
Regular screening from 21 to 65 years old can reduce cervical cancer cases and deaths. Screening works by finding a viral infection and any abnormal changes of the cells in the cervix early. Your provider can treat any abnormal cells before they turn into cancer.
Ages 21 to 29: Pap test every 3 years.
Ages 30 to 65: HPV test every 5 years. A Pap sample will be collected at the same time as your HPV test. If the HPV test shows certain types of HPV, a Pap test will be done on the original sample.
Ages 66 and older: Screening not usually recommended for women 66 and older who had regular screening with normal results on recent HPV and Pap tests and who are not a higher risk for cervical cancer.
Two main screening tests are used to see whether you are at higher risk for cervical cancer and need more testing:
HPV test looks for a common viral infection of the cervix.
Pap test (sometimes called a Pap smear) looks for changes in the cells of the cervix. During your visit, your provider uses a small brush the size of a Q-tip to collect a sample of cells from the cervix, which is then sent to the lab for testing. The screening test you are given depends on your age and medical history. You may be screened using an HPV test, a Pap test, or both. Your provider will work with you to decide which test is right for you.
The most important thing you can do is follow your provider’s recommendations for next steps.
If your HPV or Pap test result is negative (normal): The risk of cervical changes and cervical cancer is low for the next 5 years.
If your HPV or Pap test result is positive: More testing may be needed. Your provider will follow up with you about additional testing.
Talk with your provider if you have any questions about cervical cancer screening.
Adapted with permission from Southern California Permanente Medical Group; Center for Healthy Living, 2021.
Coverage may vary by plan. To check your benefits, refer to your coverage agreement or contact Member Services.