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News / Health

Cervical cancer screening should begin at age 21

By Sonya Goins, Mayo Clinic News Network
Published: January 16, 2024, 6:14am

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Each year, more than 11,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many women don’t show any signs of cervical cancer in the early stages of the disease. In advanced stages, symptoms may include vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain or pain during intercourse.

Women who have been exposed to HPV are most at risk for cervical cancer. Routine Pap smears or HPV screenings can help detect precancerous cells.

“We recommend cervical cancer screening start at age 21 for most women and continue thereafter about every three to five years, depending on the type of screening that’s performed. Annual pelvic exams are offered in the years a Pap smear is not due,” said Dr. Kristina Butler, a Mayo Clinic gynecologic oncologist.

The CDC recommends that women receive a Pap smear until age 65.

“We do know that 16 percent of cervical cancers happen in women above the age of 65,” Butler said.

She added that it’s important for women with high risk factors or postmenopausal women to continue regular screenings.

“Particularly if a woman has abnormal bleeding, or any bleeding after menopause, it’s very relevant to be evaluated,” Butler said.