Who should get tested?

Why should I get tested when I’m perfectly healthy? | I have only one partner / I’ve been married or monogamous for years. Do I need to be tested? | I’m on the pill. Won’t that help? | I insist on condoms every time. So I’m safe, right? | I’m a lesbian. Do I need to be tested? | I’ve had a hysterectomy. Why do I need to be tested? | I’m over 65. Do I still need to be tested?

Why should I get tested when I’m perfectly healthy?

Any woman who has ever had sex can get HPV. That means most of us. The peak age for HPV infection occurs in the mid-20s, but most of the time that infection goes away by itself.

Cervical cancer is most common in women aged 40 to 55. But there are exceptions. Women in their 20s and 30s can get cervical cancer, and so can women older than 55.

It can take years to go from HPV infection to abnormal cells to early cancer. During all that time you may have no symptoms at all. You may feel perfectly healthy.

Our tip to you: You’ve just had sex for the first time? Be sure you get tested within 3 years. Or if you’re already 21, it’s time for you to get tested anyway.

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I have only one partner / I’ve been married or monogamous for years. Do I need to be tested?

Even if you’ve had only one partner your entire life, you could have been infected by HPV. An HPV infection can take years or even decades to appear.

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I’m on the pill. Won’t that help?

Birth control pills are a great way to prevent unwanted pregnancy. But they don’t protect you from sexually transmitted diseases, including HPV.

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I insist on condoms every time. So I’m safe, right?

Though condoms provide very good (though not 100%) protection against some sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV – condoms are not as effective against HPV. This is because HPV can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact in the genital area. Even if you have used condoms every single time you have sex, you can still be infected with HPV. Condoms simply don’t completely cover all the skin that could be infected.

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I’m a lesbian. Do I need to be tested?

Yes. You need to get tested just the same as all other women. This is true whether or not you have ever had sex with a man. If you’ve ever had sex with anyone, you need to be tested.

Our tip to you: Lesbians do get HPV infections. Insist your healthcare provider gives you the testing you need. If your healthcare provider won’t help, find another who will.

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I’ve had a hysterectomy. Why do I need to be tested?

  • If, for reasons other than cervical cancer, you had a total hysterectomy (including removal of the cervix): You no longer need a Pap or HPV test.
  • If, because you had a diagnosis of cervical cancer, you had:
    • A total hysterectomy (your uterus and cervix were removed)
      or
    • A hysterectomy that did not remove the cervix

      You should continue to get the Pap and HPV tests.

      If you’ve had a total hysterectomy, this may be a surprise to you. But HPV can infect the vagina and vulva. When you’re tested, your healthcare provider will swab these areas instead of swabbing a cervix.

Our tip to you: Women who have had cervical cancer are at higher risk for cancer in the vagina and vulva. If you had a hysterectomy for cervical cancer, you should continue to be regularly tested for HPV – even if you no longer have a cervix.

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I’m over 65. Do I still need to be tested?

Guidelines for older women vary. And since 70 is the new 50 (or so we’ve been told), age is not the best way to determine if you need to be tested. Speak with your healthcare provider about what is right for you.

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Tamika & Friends is supported by an unrestricted educational grant from QIAGEN.