What are the benefits and limitations of screening for cervical cancer?

Physician talking to a patient in an exam room

Almost every test or procedure has benefits and limitations. You might think of these as pros and cons. Before having any test, it’s important to be aware of them so that you’re making an informed decision that’s right for you. No screening test is 100% accurate, but the scientific evidence tells us that having regular Pap tests lowers the risk of dying from cervical cancer. It’s important to know the benefits and limitations of regular cancer screening.

Physician talking to a patient in an exam room
Benefits of regular Pap tests
  • Having a Pap test reassures you if the result is normal.
  • Regular Pap tests may help prevent cervical cancer by finding cervical cell changes in your body that would become cancer if left untreated.
  • A Pap test helps find cervical cancer early before you have symptoms.
  • A Pap test helps find cervical cancer before it spreads when it is easier to treat.
  • Early detection may mean less treatment and less time spent recovering.
  • The earlier cervical cancer is detected, the better your chance of survival.
Limitations of Pap tests
  • A Pap test may suggest cervical cell abnormalities when there are none (called a false positive).
  • A Pap test may not detect cervical cell abnormalities even though they are present (called a false negative).
  • Some cervical cancers would not necessarily lead to death or decreased quality of life (overdiagnosis).
  • Some people with cervical abnormalities may have more tests or be treated for a condition that may never have developed into cancer.

It's your decision

Still trying to decide if screening is right for you? When you think about how important it is to find cancer early, we believe the benefits of having regular Pap tests for cervical cancer outweigh the limitations.