Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the cervix, the lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb). Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Cervical cancer is the easiest gynecological cancer to prevent with regular screening tests and vaccination. It is also very curable when found and treated early.
For more information on cervical cancer, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:
National Cancer Institute, NIH, HHS
Phone Number: 800-422-6237
National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, CDC
Phone Number: 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636)
American Cancer Society
Phone Number: 800-ACS-2345 (800-227-2345)
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Resource Center
Phone Number: 800-762-2264
Foundation for Women’s Cancer
Phone Number: 800-444-4441
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A cervical screening (PAP) test – What can you expect?
Cervical cancer happens when the body’s cervical cells divide very fast and grow out of control. These extra cells form a tumor.
Each year, about 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer. Cervical cancer happens most often in women 30 years or older but all women are at risk.
Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by a high-risk type of HPV. HPV is a virus that is passed from person to person through genital contact, such as vaginal, anal, or oral sex. If the HPV infection does not go away on its own, it may cause cervical cancer over time.
Other things may increase the risk of developing cancer following a high-risk HPV infection. These other things include:
- Having HIV or reduced immunity
- Taking birth control pills for a long time (more than five years)
- Having given birth to three or more children
The Pap test and the HPV test look for different things.
A Pap test checks the cervix for abnormal cell changes that, if not found and treated, can lead to cervical cancer. Your doctor takes cells from your cervix to examine under a microscope. How often you need a Pap test depends on your age and health history. Talk with your doctor about what is best for you.
An HPV test looks for HPV on a woman’s cervix. Certain types of HPV can lead to cervical cancer. Your doctor will swab the cervix for cells. An HPV test is not the same as the HPV vaccine.
According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), women ages 30 to 65 can combine the HPV test with a Pap test every 5 years. The USPSTF does not recommend the HPV test for women under age 30.
How often you need to be screened depends on your age and health history. Talk with your doctor about what is best for you. Most women can follow these guidelines:
- If you are between ages 21 and 29, you should get a Pap test every 3 years.
- If you are between ages 30 and 64, you should get a Pap test and HPV test together every 5 years or a Pap test alone every 3 years.
- If you are 65 or older, ask your doctor if you can stop having Pap tests.
If you had a hysterectomy, you should follow these guidelines:
- If you no longer have a cervix because you had a hysterectomy for reasons other than cancer, you do not need Pap tests.
- If you had a hysterectomy because of abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer, you should have a yearly Pap test until you have three normal tests.
- If you had your uterus removed but you still have a cervix (this type of hysterectomy is not common), you need regular Pap tests until you are 65 and have had three normal Pap tests in a row with no abnormal results in the last 10 years.
You can lower your risk of getting cervical cancer with the following steps. The steps work best when used together. No single step can protect you from cervical cancer. The best ways to prevent cervical cancer include:
- Get an HPV vaccine (if you are 26 or younger). Two vaccines — Cervarix and Gardasil — protect girls and young women against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. The vaccines are recommended for girls who are 11 or 12 years old. The Gardasil vaccine is recommended for boys who are 11 or 12 years old. Both vaccines are licensed, safe, and effective.
- Get regular Pap tests. Regular Pap tests help your doctor find and treat any changing cells before they turn into cancer. Women who have had the HPV vaccine still need to have regular Pap tests.
- Be monogamous. Being monogamous means that you only have sex with each other and no one else. The best way to prevent any sexually transmitted infection (STI), including HPV, is to not have vaginal, oral, or anal sex. But, having sex with just one partner can lower your risk. That means that you only have sex with each other and no one else.
- Use condoms. Research shows that condom use can lower your risk of getting cervical cancer when used correctly and every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Protect yourself with a condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
Yes. You can still benefit from the HPV vaccine if you have already had sexual contact before getting all three doses. This only applies if you have not been infected with the HPV types included in the vaccine.
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