10 Cancer Screening Tests Women Need to Know About

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Pap Smear for Cervical Cancer

What the test is: The Pap test for cervical cancer uses a sample of cells to detect changes in your cervix before any symptoms ā€” unusual bleeding, vaginal discharge, or vaginal pain during sex ā€” that could indicate cervical cancer. For the Pap test, also called a Pap smear, the healthcare provider swabs your cervix during your pelvic exam to collect cells, and sends them to a lab. There, technicians look for abnormal cells under a microscope. Pap test results will come in as normal, unclear, or abnormal. An abnormal result means that the cells might become cancerous; if so, you may need more testing, like a colposcopy, a procedure in which a doctor uses a lighted instrument to look for signs of disease in the cervix.

The USPSTF recommends the Pap test for women every three years from age 21 up until age 65. For women who prefer to screen less often, they advise a Pap test once every five years along with an HPV DNA test, from ages 30 until 65.

Why you should have Pap test: According to the National Cancer Institute, Pap tests have resulted in a lower incidence of cervical cancer in the United States. Risks include anxiety about inconclusive results, and overtreatment in younger women in whom cervical cell abnormalities are likely to resolve on their own.

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