Getting screened for cervical cancer

A Pap test (also called a Pap smear) checks for changes in the cells of your cervix that could turn into cancer over time. The Pap test can find these cells early when treatment works best.

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What to say when you talk to your doctor

Before you get a breast or cervical cancer screening, you may want to ask your doctor the following questions:

  • What are my risks of getting breast/cervical cancer?
  • How often should I be screened?
  • What will happen during the screening test?
  • How long will it take?
  • When and how will I learn about the results?
  • When will I need to have my next screening?

What to expect from a Pap test

During a Pap test, you will be asked to lie on your back with your feet in stirrups. The doctor will use a plastic or metal instrument, called a speculum, to widen the vagina. This helps the doctor examine the vagina and the cervix, and collect cells and mucus from the cervix and the area around it. The cells will then be placed on a slide or in a bottle of liquid and sent to a laboratory. The laboratory will check to be sure that the cells are normal.

When to get screened

All women ages 21 to 65 should get screened for cervical cancer. Women who may no longer be having sex or who may feel too old to have a child should still have regular Pap tests. Cervical cancer is most often found in women who have not been screened with the Pap test in more than five years or have never been screened at all. How often you get screened for cervical cancer depends on many factors, including your age, your screening history, and your sexual activity. Talk with your doctor about when and how often you should get screened. Your doctor might be able to do a Pap test during a regular appointment, or you might have to schedule one.

Can I get screened if I don't have insurance?

Yes. Free breast and cervical cancer screening is available for eligible, uninsured Massachusetts residents through the Department of Public Health Care Coordination Program. To get more information or to be connected to a Care Coordination Program clinical site near you, please call (877) 414-4447.

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