According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 4,310 American women will lose their lives to cervical cancer in 2023. There will also be an estimated 13,960 new diagnoses of invasive cervical cancer.
Fortunately, the growing popularity of pap smears and HPV tests have significantly reduced cervical cancer deaths among American women. If a woman gets tested for cervical cancer early enough, their doctor can detect abnormal cervical cell growth before it becomes cancerous. Then treatments can be administered to help slow down and eliminate the growth.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the leading cause of cervical cancer. Most doctors recommend women between 29 and 44 get HPV tests because they can detect signs of high-risk HPV infections. And if a woman receives an HPV test and Pap test around the same time, then it will be easier for the doctor to connect the abnormal cervical cell growth to the HPV infection as the cause of it.
Women under 20 don’t usually get cervical cancer. This age range is the ideal time to get an HPV vaccination to prevent high-risk HPV infections that could lead to cervical cancer. Unfortunately, many women don’t get vaccinated and have a much higher risk of developing cervical cancer as they get older, especially if they are still sexually active. In fact, over 20% of cervical cancer cases involve women 65 and older.
HPV Testing Recommendations
An HPV test requires the doctor to extract a cervical cell sample to study in a laboratory and look for signs of high-risk HPV strains. The test can be administered separately from a Pap test or at the same time as one.
The American Cancer Society recommends women between 25 and 65 receive the HPV test by itself. However, since primary HPV testing is not available everywhere for women, a much more accessible option would be to receive the HPV test and Pap test simultaneously, often called co-testing.
Women should get the Pap test at least once every three years or the Pap test and HPV test once every five years. The HPV test can better assess your cervical cancer risk level by identifying the high-risk HPV strain in your cervix. The Pap test only checks for cervical cancer but doesn’t identify the cause.
So, if you have to choose one test over the other, it would be better to get the HPV test to see if you have a high-risk HPV infection. But getting both tests simultaneously and comparing the results afterward is always preferable.