If you’ve ever been sexually active, you should start having regular Pap tests by the time you’re 21. You’ll need a Pap test every 1 to 3 years, depending on your previous test results. Even if you have stopped having sex, you should continue to have a Pap test. If you’ve had a hysterectomy, you may still need a Pap test, but talk to your doctor about whether this is necessary.
Screening for cervical cancer
The most important risk factor for developing cervical cancer is infection of the cervix with human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is spread mainly through sexual contact (including sexual intercourse, genital skin-to-skin contact and oral sex), and the virus can appear years after you have been exposed to it. Using a condom during sex may decrease the chance that you will pick up HPV, but a condom can only provide partial protection as it doesn’t cover the entire genital area.
Even if you’ve had the HPV vaccine, regular Pap tests are still needed. The HPV vaccine doesn’t protect against all types of HPV.