Common Questions About
Should I be concerned about cervical cancer?
Even though cervical cancer rates have gone down in the last few decades, every woman needs to play a role in preventing cervical cancer and staying healthy. Regular check-ups, routine pap testing, and HPV testing when recommended, are key components in the fight against cervical cancer.
Could I have cervical cancer?
It is unlikely that you would be able to tell on your own. Precancerous cells and early cervical cancer usually don’t cause symptoms. That’s why routine pap testing is suggested for early detection and treatment. If you are experiencing unusual bleeding, pelvic pain, or urinary pain, you should speak with your doctor. The surest way to catch cervical cancer early is with regular pap testing.
How does someone get HPV?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of over 100 virus types that are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. About 30-40 of these HPV strains are transmitted through sexual contact. About 80% of sexually active women have contracted at least one strain of genital HPV by age 50.1 Most HPV strains are harmless, and clear on their own over time. However a few "high-risk" strains may persist and lead to cervical cancer.
I have HPV — will I get cervical cancer?
Not necessarily. The vast majority of women with an HPV infection never get cervical cancer. About 90% of HPV infections will clear on their own in two years.2
What is a pap test?
A pap test is a cancer screening method that involves collecting cells from the cervix and viewing them under a microscope to determine if they are precancerous or cancerous.
The pap test is the most successful cervical cancer screening program. Since its introduction, cervical cancer deaths have declined by over 70%. Moreover, the advent of the ThinPrep Pap Test has contributed to an additional 28% decline in invasive cervical cancers in the United States.
If I feel fine, do I need a pap test?
Yes. In many cases, cervical cancer does not cause symptoms until it is advanced. Routine pap testing is the only way to detect precancerous or cancerous cervical cells before they become a serious threat to your health.
What if my pap test results are abnormal?
Over 90% of pap tests results come back as normal. In the event that your pap test comes back as abnormal, your doctor will recommend appropriate follow-up and possible treatment if necessary. Remember, when caught early, nearly all cervical cancers are treatable. The pap test, and the HPV test when recommended, is the best method to aid in early detection.
Screening and Vaccination
How often should I have a pap test?
A woman should have her first pap test within 3 years after first having sex or at age 21, whichever comes first. For women ages 21 to 30, pap tests are recommended annually. Regardless of how often you get a pap test, make sure you get the best possible test — the ThinPrep Pap Test done with the ThinPrep Imaging System.
What can I do to prepare for my pap test?
The best time to schedule your exam is 10 to 14 days following the first day of your last period. Avoid vaginal medication, lubricants, vaginal contraceptives, or douches for 2 days before your exam. Do not have sex for 1 to 2 days before the exam.
Is my pap test the same as my annual exam?
While routine pap testing is often part of your annual exam, your annual exam itself consists of several important parts. Your annual exam may include a physical exam, pelvic exam, pap test, HPV testing, and/or chlamydia and gonorrhea testing. Your annual exam is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy.
Is there any reason to get a pap test more than once a year?
Some women may need to get a pap test more often than once a year. Your doctor may recommend this if you are between the ages of 21 and 30 and are HIV-positive or otherwise have a compromised immune system, if you were exposed before birth to the synthetic hormone diethylstilbestrol (DES), or if you have previously been diagnosed with cervical cancer, or if you tested positive for a high-risk strain of HPV.
I've had a hysterectomy — do I still need a pap test?
Women who have had a hysterectomy with removal of the cervix and who have no history of cancerous cell growth may not need routine pap testing. You should discuss this with your doctor.
What is an HPV test?
An HPV test is a test that looks for high-risk HPV infection. Testing positive for an HPV test does not mean that you have cervical cancer. It simply means that you currently have high-risk HPV.
Why would my doctor suggest that I get an HPV test?
Your doctor may want you to get tested for HPV if your pap test showed the presence of slightly abnormal cells. For women over 30, an HPV test may also be given along with a routine pap test to determine if the virus is present.
If I test positive for HPV, will I get cervical cancer?
A positive test simply means that you currently have human papillomavirus. This does not mean that you have cervical cancer. In fact, the vast majority of women who are exposed to HPV will not experience cellular changes as a result. About 90% of HPV infections will clear on their own.2 On the other hand, you could still have cervical cancer even if you have a negative HPV test. Pap testing is the only way to determine if cellular changes have taken place.
Can I get the HPV vaccine?
The vaccine is most effective when given prior to the onset of sexual activity. Discuss your specific situation with your doctor to see if the HPV vaccine is right for you.
Will the HPV vaccine protect me from cervical cancer?
The HPV vaccine protects against two high-risk strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer; it does not protect against all of the strains associated with cervical cancer. Even if you get the vaccine, you should continue to get routine pap tests, and HPV testing when recommended, to screen for cervical cancer.
Benefits of ThinPrep Testing
Why should I ask for the ThinPrep Pap Test?
The ThinPrep Pap Test is the first real improvement to the conventional pap smear in 50 years. It enables laboratory professionals to identify more precancerous or cancerous cervical cells by preserving the delicate detail of your sample and preparing that sample clearly on a slide.
How should I prepare for my pap test?
There are several steps you can take to ensure that you get the best possible results from your pap test. Schedule your appointment for a time when you do not have your period. The best time to schedule your exam is 10 to 14 days following the first day of your last period. Avoid vaginal medication, lubricants, vaginal contraceptives, or douches for 2 days before your exam. Do not have sex for 1 to 2 days before the exam. Personal lubricants, blood, medications, and other things can interfere with the collection of your cervical cells, as well as the quality of the sample on the side.
How is the ThinPrep Pap Test different?
Once your cells have been taken, the doctor rinses them into a vial of liquid instead of smearing them onto a slide. Because the cells aren't "smeared", they don't clump together. This method also allows the doctor to preserve almost all of the sample, rather than just a portion. The vial with the cells is sent to the laboratory, where a machine separates the cells from unnecessary materials, such as blood and mucus. A randomized, representative sample of cells is then placed onto a slide in a clear, uncrowded way. This approach makes the ThinPrep Pap Test slide easier for the lab specialist to read.
Is an "imaged" test different than a ThinPrep Pap Test?
Yes. While both tests are collected and sent to the laboratory in the same way, the ThinPrep Imaging System is a unique technology that scans the slide in order to identify the largest and darkest cells. The ThinPrep Imager then highlights areas of the slide where abnormal cells may be, so that these important areas can be reviewed by a skilled laboratory professional.
Is there proof that the ThinPrep Pap Test is more effective?
Studies involving millions of women have demonstrated the greater effectiveness of the ThinPrep Pap Test. One study by Limaye and colleagues3 was performed at the nation's largest laboratory, and involved over 2 million samples. This study showed a 233% increase in high-grade disease detection over the conventional pap smear. Another study by Miller and colleagues4 showed that the addition of the ThinPrep Imaging System increased high-grade disease detection by an additional 42% over manually reviewed ThinPrep Pap Test slides. These are just two of more than 170 independent studies demonstrating that ThinPrep detects more precancerous and cancerous cervical cells.
If I feel fine, do I still need a pap test?
Yes. Even though you may feel fine, you should still have pap tests on a regular basis. That way, any problems can be caught and treated early, before they become serious.
What if my test results say I may have a problem?
When caught early, nearly all cervical cancers are treatable. The best way to ensure early detection is with routine pap testing. The good news is that almost 90% of all pap tests are considered normal. Results that do not fall within normal limits allow both you and your doctor to actively manage the condition.
Will my insurance pay for the ThinPrep Pap Test?
Although healthcare plans vary across the country, most insurers will cover both the ThinPrep Pap Test and the ThinPrep Pap Test done with the ThinPrep Imaging System.
How can I get the ThinPrep Pap Test?
That's the easiest part of all — just ask your doctor or healthcare provider. The ThinPrep Pap Test is chosen by nearly 90% of U.S. physicians. Make sure when you schedule your exam to ask for an Imaged ThinPrep Pap Test.
Understanding Pap Test Results
What does the term "abnormal" mean?
If your pap test results are abnormal, it may mean that you have abnormal or precancerous cervical cells. But it may also mean that you have vaginal irritation or another condition that will resolve itself. Many conditions that cause abnormal pap test results are relatively harmless.
What if my test results are "negative"?
Negative — or normal — results mean that the pap test either did not detect abnormal or precancerous cervical cells, or that any cells detected were within normal limits. Remember to schedule your next pap test with your doctor’s office so you can continue to have peace of mind.
What further testing needs to be done?
If your pap test result comes back as abnormal, your doctor may perform a pelvic exam, an HPV test, or a colposcopy to get more information about the possible causes for your abnormal pap test result. Depending on abnormality, additional pap testing or HPV testing may be recommended.
1. American Cancer Society. Guideline for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine Use to Prevent Cervical Cancer and Its Precursors. Available here: http://caonline.amcancersoc.org/cgi/content/full/57/1/7. Accessed 9/2/08.
2. Rodriguez, et al. Rapid clearance of human papillomavirus and implications for clinical focus on persistent infections. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2008;100:513-17.
3. Limaye A, Connor AJ, Huang X, Luff R. Comparative analysis of conventional papanicolaou tests and a fluid-based thin-layer method. Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2003;127:200-4.
4. Miller et al. Implementation of the ThinPrep Imaging System in a High Volume Metropolitan Laboratory. Diag Cytopath. 2007;35:213-7.