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In the past, a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer was recommended for adolescents after they had been sexually active for 3 years, or at age 21, whichever came first. But the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Cancer Society now recommend that all women have their first screening at age 21, regardless of when sexual activity begins.
Sexually active adolescents 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 clear the virus within 1 to 2 years. Even though adolescents may have precancerous cervical lesions from HPV, these usually go away on their own.
By delaying a first Pap test until age 21, teen girls can avoid unnecessary invasive procedures to treat HPV precancers. Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Cancer Society. Talk to a health care provider about the schedule that is best for you.
It is recommended that adolescents receive the HPV vaccination. This vaccine is highly effective in protecting men and women from the types of HPV that can cause cancer. The vaccine should be given before an adolescent has become sexually active.
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