- The regular Pap test, which has been around for decades, is an important test for women 21 and above, for it detects abnormal cervical cancer cells in the cervix.
- The Pap and HPV co-test which was just added years ago, is advised for women 30 and older, and is used to screen for DNA from HPV cells in the cervix.
- Although women are advised to get all these tests, not all doctors use these screenings and just usually apply the regular Pap tests.
Although most women usually do not look forward to getting a Pap test, when you’re getting one, make sure you’re getting the most of its benefits.
It is easy to assume that your doctor is using the ‘regular’ Pap test, the Pap and the HPV co-test to screen you for precancerous changes and cancers in your cervix, including the human papillomavirus (HPV) that could lead to cancer. However, that’s not always the case.
Electra Paskett, PhD, co-leader of Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, discusses some details with Yahoo Lifestyle.
What is a Pap test?
According to the U.S. Office on Women’s Health, a pap smear is a test to check your cervix for abnormal cells. This test is so crucial because if abnormal cervical cells are not treated in time, they can lead to cervical cancer.
Standard pap tests involve having a speculum inserted inside your vagina by a doctor or nurse who collects cells from the outside of your cervix with a special stick or brush. Samples are then sent to a lab for testing.
Paskett says that although similar to the standard Pap test, the Pap and HPV co-test that was introduced some years ago, looks for DNA from HPV cells on the cervix. All these cells are collected by your doctor at one time.
Women from ages 21 to 29 are recommended by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) to screen for cervical cancer every three years with a standard Pap test. Women between 30 and 65 have the choice of getting a standard Pap test every three years, a Pap and HPV co-test every five years, or an HPV test every five years.
So why don’t doctors use the co-test more?
Although it is standard practice for some doctors to do a Pap with an HPV co-test for qualified women, Paskett says most doctors are typically in the routine of doing the straight Pap test.
Further, not all health providers are fully updated since the Pap and HPV co-test was just recently added.
Both tests are covered by insurance, which shouldn’t be a problem, says Paskett. While there’s no way to know which test you should be having, women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D., says, ask your doctor, and request them to give you the test if they don’t plan on giving you one.
If you had your Pap test done yet not sure if you were tested for HPV, or unsure about your risks and don’t want to delay testing at all, Wider says have a dialogue with your doctor to find out about your options.
Talking to your doctor is essential because appropriate screenings and using the HPV vaccine is the only way we can eliminate cervical cancer, added Paskett.