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Pap Test for Adolescents

In the past, a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer was advised for girls after they had been sexually active for 3 years, or at age 21, whichever came first. But the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) now advise all women to have their first screening at age 21, no matter when they start having sex.

Gender words are used here to talk about anatomy and health risk. Please use this information in a way that works best for you and your provider as you talk about your care.

Sexually active teens are at high risk for infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). This is the virus that causes most cervical cancers, as well as other types of cancer. But research has shown that their bodies are able to get rid of the virus within 1 to 2 years. Teen girls may have precancerous sores on their cervix from HPV, but these usually go away on their own. 

Teen girls who delay their first Pap test until age 21 can avoid needing procedures to treat HPV precancers. Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years, according to ACOG and ACS. Talk with a healthcare provider about the schedule that is best for you.

Teens should get the HPV vaccine. This vaccine works well to protect people from the types of HPV that can cause cancer. The vaccine should be given before a teen becomes sexually active.

Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Heather M Trevino BSN RNC
Online Medical Reviewer: Irina Burd MD PhD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2023
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