It’s important to begin having regular Pap tests starting at age 25, or 3 years after becoming sexually active, whichever is later. For example:
- If you’re 17 and are already sexually active: You don’t need to start having Pap tests until you’re 25.
- If you’re not sexually active until 25: You don’t need to start having Pap tests until you’re 28.
Remember that being sexually active doesn’t mean only intercourse. It refers to any skin-to-skin contact in the genital area, including touching, oral sex or intercourse with a partner of any sex. Once you start having Pap tests, you should continue having them until you’re at least 69 years old, even after you’ve been through menopause. Some women may feel they don’t need Pap tests. But you should still have regular Pap tests even if:
- You feel healthy and have no symptoms of cervical cancer
- You’re no longer sexually active
- You’ve only had 1 sexual partner
- You’re in a same-sex relationship
- You’ve had the HPV vaccine
- You’ve been through menopause
- You have no family history of cervical cancer
- You’ve had a hysterectomy and still have your cervix*
- You’ve had cervical cancer in the past
*If you’ve had a hysterectomy, speak to your healthcare provider about whether you still need to be screened.
No matter what, if you’ve ever been sexually active, it’s never too late to start having Pap tests.
How often should I have a Pap test?
Unless your healthcare provider tells you otherwise, here are some guidelines:
- After your first Pap test, plan to have a Pap test once every 3 years: Screening every year gives very little extra protection compared to having a Pap test every 3 years. Having Pap tests too often can lead to diagnosis of cell changes in the cervix that would likely go away on their own. This results in follow-up testing that isn’t needed.
- After age 70, you can stop having Pap tests if:
- Your last 3 tests, done within the past 10 years, were normal
- You haven’t had any serious abnormal cell changes in the past
- You had an HPV reflex test result that was negative
If you experience any changes between Pap tests, such as bleeding between periods, after sexual intercourse or after menopause, tell your healthcare provider right away.
Do I Really Need a Pap Test [brochure]