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Who should be screened for human papillomavirus (HPV)?

Most women will be infected by human papillomavirus (HPV), a common skin cell virus, at some point in their lives. The virus is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact in the genital area, most often by sexual intercourse.

The screening guidelines for HPV are as follows:

  • Women younger than age 21 do not need Pap tests, because HPV infections and abnormal cell changes in the cervix in women younger than 21 will usually go away on their own.
  • Women ages 21 to 29 should get a Pap test every three years. This replaces the previous guideline that women get tested annually. This is meant to increase benefits and reduce harm. When Pap tests are done annually, abnormal changes may be found that often go away on their own. If you have an abnormal Pap test result, you may be called in immediately for additional testing or for follow-up sooner than three years. HPV testing is not recommended for routine screening of women in this age group, because most women in their 20s will have HPV that will go away on its own.
  • Women ages 30 to 65 now have the option of getting screened every five years with a combination of a Pap test and an HPV test, called cotesting. The American Cancer Society prefers this method for screening women 30 and older. Women ages 30 to 65 also have the option of continuing to be screened every three years with the Pap test alone.
  • Women older than age 65 can stop getting cervical cancer screening if they've had at least three normal Pap tests in a row or they've had two normal results from two tests that combined the Pap test and HPV test over the past 10 years, with the most recent test having been within the past five years.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.