Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Cancer, HPV Testing, and HPV Vaccines : Frequently Asked Questions

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Why should women over age 30 with normal test results change to co-testing every 5 years and start doing HPV testing? Is that safe?

Cell changes in the cervix happen very slowly. It usually takes more than 10 years for cell changes to become cancer. Pap tests have been done yearly in the past, but now we know that Pap tests are not needed yearly. In fact, if done every year, they can lead to harm from unneeded treatment of cell changes that would never go on to cause cancer.

One of the benefits of adding testing for HPV is that women may not need a Pap test as often. Getting the Pap test and HPV test (called “co-testing”) every 5 years means fewer tests, follow-up visits, and treatments may be needed, while the same number or even slightly more cervical cancers are found. Women with normal Pap and HPV test results have almost no chance of getting cervical cancer within at least 5 years. There’s no added safety to co-testing more often than every 5 years.

Co-testing is preferred, but it’s also OK to continue to have the Pap test alone every 3 years.

Last Medical Review: 05/02/2013
Last Revised: 05/02/2013