The most important thing a woman can do to help prevent cervical cancer is to have regular Pap tests starting at age 21, or when becoming sexually active if after the age of 21. The Pap test looks for pre-cancers (or dysplasia), cell changes on the cervix that may develop into cervical cancer if not treated appropriately. In addition to the Pap test, the HPV test checks for the HPV virus, which is the main cause of cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends a Pap test plus an HPV test as the preferred way to find early cervical cancers or pre-cancers in women 30 and older.
If your Pap test results are normal, your chance of getting cervical cancer in the next few years is very low. For that reason, your doctor may tell you that you will not need another Pap test for as long as three years after the age of 21. If both your Pap and HPV test results are normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait five years to have your next Pap test. But you should still go to the doctor regularly for an annual gynecological checkup.
There are also other ways to reduce your risk of getting HPV.