Cervical Cancer Screening & Pap Test

At Houston Methodist, our experts are committed to cervical cancer screening, which helps detect the earliest signs of cervical cancer as well as abnormal cervical cells that may become cancerous in the future.


The two main screening tests that can help catch cervical cancer early, or even help prevent precancerous cells from developing into cervical cancer, are:

  • Pap test – also sometimes referred to as a Pap smear, this is part of your routine well-woman exam beginning in your early 20s
  • HPV test – looks for human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection that is linked to cervical cancer

When Should You Get Screened for Cervical Cancer?

For Women Ages 21-29

A woman should start getting a Pap test at age 21. Your doctor will help you understand how frequently you need to have a Pap test thereafter, but for most women it is every three years.

For Women Ages 30-65

Your doctor will help you understand how frequently you need to be screened for cervical cancer, as well as which tests are best. In general, there are three testing options and frequencies.


You may have:

  • A Pap test every three years
  • An HPV test every five years
  • A Pap + HPV test (called co-testing) every five years


Which option is best for your depends on your age and health history.


For Women Over Age 65

If you are over 65 years of age and have had normal test results for many years, your doctor may determine that you don't need to be screened for cervical cancer anymore. He or she may also make this decision if you've had a hysterectomy as part of treatment for a noncancerous condition.

What to Expect During a Pap Test

During a Pap test, you can expect the following:

  • You will be asked to undress from the waist down and will be given a sheet to cover your lower body.
  • You will lie down on the examination table and place your feet in stirrups to hold them in place (stirrups are often cold, so you may want to wear a pair of socks).
  • Your doctor will lubricate your vagina and insert a tool called a speculum that will spread the opening and allow access to the cervix.
  • Your doctor will take a small brush or cotton swab and use it to take a sample of cells by gently rubbing the cervix.
  • The cells are then transferred to a slide or tube so they can be sent to the lab for analysis.
  • Once the sample is taken, your doctor will gently remove the speculum and you will be done with your Pap test.


Some women experience mild discomfort, similar to menstrual cramps, but this usually goes away once the exam is finished. If you experience any pain during or after the test, let your doctor know immediately.

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