Minor changes are likely to go back to normal on their own, the CDC points out, but serious changes in cells, often labeled as “pre-cancer,” can turn into cancer, and the abnormal cells should be removed. The good news is prompt treatment of precancerous cells prevents cervical cancer from developing in almost all cases, according to the American Cancer Society.
The CDC advises women between the ages of 21 and 65 to get regular Pap tests as directed by your doctor. Based on your age and test results, your doctor will inform you how often you need to have Pap tests in the future.
If your Pap test is normal, you may be told you can wait for three years before the test is repeated. Once you reach 65 and have had normal Pap tests for several years, or if you have your cervix removed as part of a total hysterectomy, your doctor may decide you don’t need any more Pap tests.
It’s important to know the Pap test is only a screening test for abnormalities linked to cervical cancer and rarely, in itself, is diagnostic for cancer. The Pap test also doesn’t test for other gynecological cancers. So if you have any abnormal symptoms, such as vaginal pain and bleeding, make an appointment to be checked by your doctor ASAP, even if you recently had a normal Pap test.
Understanding HPV test results
A negative HPV test means you do not have HPV, or you do not have an HPV type linked to cervical cancer.
But if your results are positive, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean you currently have cervical cancer. However, a positive HPV test indicates you do have an HPV type linked to cervical cancer, and the finding can be a warning you’ll need further testing.
In order to be meaningful, a HPV test needs to be compared with your Pap test results, according to the CDC. If the result of an HPV test is negative, along with a normal Pap test, your risk of getting cervical cancer in the next few years is very low, and your doctor may recommend testing in five years instead of three.
If your HPV test is positive, but your Pap test is normal, there’s a good chance your immune system will get rid of the HPV infection within two years. However, you’ll need to get another Pap test and HPV test in a year to check your HPV status, and to see if any abnormal cells are developing.
January 08, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN