HPV vaccines, including Gardasil and Cervarix, can reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer.
That doesn’t mean that you can stop getting Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer though.
Vaccines are not 100% effective and while the HPV vaccines protect against the strains of HPV that are most likely to cause cervical cancer, they don’t include every single strain.
Does HPV Vaccination Decrease the Chances You Will Get a Pap Test?
Again, HPV vaccines don’t replace pap tests.
Whether or not a woman is vaccinated, if they have no extra risk factors (can mean extra screening), they should have:
- their first Pap test at age 21 years, to look for cell changes on the cervix that can be a sign of precancers (was previously at age 18 years if sexually active)
- a Pap test every 3 years from age 21 through 29 years (was previously done every year)
- a Pap test with HPV cotesting (actually tests for the presence of HPV in cervical cells) every 5 years or a Pap test alone every 3 years from age 30 through 65 years
This routine testing can help find precancers before they turn into cervical cancer.
Why would anyone stop getting a pap test after getting vaccinated?
Some folks worry that they might though, because those who are vaccinated might think they are at lower risk to get HPV and cervical cancer.
Fortunately, most studies show that this doesn’t happen. Not surprisingly, studies have also confirmed that HPV vaccines are safe and they don’t encourage kids to have unprotected sex.
And data from the National Center of Health Statistics show that a steady number of women over age 18 years have been getting Pap tests since 1987. Numbers did drop a bit recently for young women between the ages of 18 to 24 years, but that coincides with the 2003 and 2012 changes for when to get Pap testing.
What makes this all a bit confusing is that there are actually some suggestions that women who have been vaccinated at an early age (before they are sexually active), with the newest HPV vaccines (cover more HPV types) might actually be able to get HPV testing instead of a Pap test, can start getting tested at a later age, and can get fewer tests.
None of those are formal recommendations though, so women should keep getting their Pap tests on schedule, whether or not they have been vaccinated.
What about reports of increased rates of cervical cancer in Sweden that are linked to an increase in HPV vaccination rates?
In addition to fake credentials, the author came to bogus conclusions, as although there has been an increase in rates of cervical cancer in some of the smaller counties in Sweden, it is thought to be due to differences in regional cancer prevention. To put it more simply, if it was due to getting vaccinated, then since immunization rates aren’t that different in those counties (just like immunization rates vs autism rates in the United States), then why didn’t rates of cervical cancer go up everywhere?
“Joakim Dillner, professor of infectious epidemiology at Karolinska Institute and register holder for the National Quality Register for Cervical Cancer Prevention and Analysis, says, however, to the Medical Journal that there is nothing in the allegations that the increase would be due to HPV vaccination.”
Of note, Sweden, recently had the highest participation in their cervical cancer screening program ever, at 82.4% of the population.
“HPV-vaccination is so far associated with equal or higher attendance to cervical screening in Sweden in a cohort of opportunistically vaccinated young women.”
Herweijer et al on The Participation of HPV-Vaccinated Women in a National Cervical Screening Program: Population-Based Cohort Study
So much for the idea that getting an HPV vaccine decreases your likelihood of getting a Pap test…
What to Know About HPV Vaccines and Pap Testing
Although HPV vaccines can decrease your risk of cervical cancer, that shouldn’t influence your decision to get a Pap test.
More on HPV Vaccines and Pap Testing
- Pap test statistics
- Pap and HPV Testing
- The Pap (Papanicolaou) Test
- The HPV DNA Test
- Cervical Cancer Prevention and Screening: Financial Issues
- CDC – What Should I Know About Cervical Cancer Screening?
- CDC – Pap Tests Stats
- History of ACS Recommendations for the Early Detection of Cancer in People Without Symptoms
- Facts about HPV and the vaccine
- Study – The Participation of HPV-Vaccinated Women in a National Cervical Screening Program: Population-Based Cohort Study
- Study – Human Papillomavirus Vaccination and Pap Smear Uptake Among Young Women in the United States: Role of Provider and Patient.
- Study – Adolescents’ intention and self-efficacy to follow Pap testing recommendations after receiving the HPV vaccine.
- Study – Human papillomavirus vaccination and Pap testing profile in Manitoba, Canada.
- Study – Knowledge and intention to participate in cervical cancer screening after the human papillomavirus vaccine.
- Study – Cervical cancer screening in women vaccinated against human papillomavirus infection: Recommendations from a consensus conference
- Study – Human Papillomavirus Vaccine-Related Risk Perceptions Do Not Predict Sexual Initiation Among Young Women Over 30 Months Following Vaccination.
- The HPV vaccine and cervical screening: how many tests do you need?
- HPV Vaccines: Answering the Questions Parents May Have
- HPV Vaccine Safety
- HPV vaccine safety – another massive scientific study
- HPV ACIP Vaccine Recommendation
- Just Another Shot: Reframing the HPV Vaccine
- Gardasil safety and efficacy – debunking the HPV vaccine myths
- Why Some Parents Are Refusing HPV Vaccine For Their Children