Primary Health Network supports January as National Cervical Cancer Awareness month. In the 50+ years since the development of the Pap test, cervical cancer deaths in the United States have dropped by 74%. In fact, before pap testing was developed, cervical cancer was the leading cause of cancer deaths in women. Cervical cancer has become much less common in the United States due to advancements in screening techniques (the Pap test and HPV testing) as well as preventative vaccination against HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), which is linked to most cervical cancers. So what is Pap testing? A Pap test is a sample of cells from the cervix (the opening part of the uterus or womb) that is examined under a microscope to find precancerous or cancerous changes. The pap test is performed as part of some pelvic exams, but may not be needed or performed at every pelvic exam. A yearly pelvic exam may include a visual inspection of the external and internal genitalia as well as feeling the uterus and ovaries for problems like enlargement or tenderness.The goal of Pap testing is to identify abnormal cervical cells that may turn in to cancer. In 2013, new recommendations were developed to guide the frequency of Pap testing. These recommendations were based on solid research done in large numbers of women. The current Pap testing recommendations for low risk women are:• Start pap testing at age 21. Pap testing should be done every 3 years from age 21-29. • From age 30-64, Pap testing alone should be done every 3 years or a Pap test with HPV testing may be done every 5 years.• Women may discontinue Pap testing at age 65 years if there has been adequate screening in the last 10 years.As mentioned above, HPV has been linked to most cases of cervical cancer. HPV is a very common virus that is able to be passed between partners during intimate contact. Most people have HPV at some point in their life, but it usually goes away on its own. If certain types of HPV persist it can cause precancerous or cancerous changes on the cervix. 99 % of cervical cancers (and 20-30 % of oral cancers) are related to HPV. But there is good news! Many types of HPV can be prevented by a vaccine (Gardisil) which is given to both boys and girls between the ages of 9-26. The HPV vaccine works best if it is given before sexual activity starts.PHN also encourages an annual well woman visit with a healthcare provider. These visits focus on updating your medical and family history and immunizations, other health screening tests, testing for infections, breast screening, as well as health education on diet, exercise, birth control and stress management. Even if you’re not “due” for a pap test, an annual Well Woman visit is advised. During National Cervical Cancer Awareness month, please take time to make sure you are up to date on your Pap test and HPV vaccine. Please call your health care provider with any questions or concerns.Janet Robb is a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner who provides Women’s Health services for Primary Health Network. She joined PHN in May 2016. Janet earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing, Pittsburgh, PA. She earned her Master of Science in Nursing Health Care of Women degree from University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Philadelphia, PA.