Cervical Cancer Screening
Cervical cancer used to be one of the leading causes of cancer death for women in the US. Mortality from cervical cancer has steadily declined since the mid-20th century with the use of effective screening tests, namely the use of regular pelvic exams and pap smears. A new vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus that causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer, may lead to a further reduction in new cases of cervical cancer. Despite this progress, more than 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed and approximately 4,000 women died from cervical cancer in the US in 2018, the most recent year with comprehensive data on cervical cancer, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that all women between the ages of 21 and 65 who have been sexually active and have a cervix (i.e. have not undergone a hysterectomy) undergo a pelvic exam and pap smear every 3 years. For women ages 30-65 who desire less frequent testing, a possible alternative is to have a pap smear with DNA-based testing for HPV infection every 5 years.
Regular pelvic exams for women may also lead to the diagnosis and treatment of other benign and malignant conditions of the female reproductive tract, including other sexually transmitted diseases, uterine fibroids, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer. Regular pap smears can lead to a diagnosis of HPV infection or pre-cancerous disease of the cervix, before surgery may be required.