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Cervical Cancer

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is a highly preventable cancer. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a global call for action to eliminate cervical cancer within the next century, with achievable goals to be reached by 2030.

Cervical cancer is most often caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can be prevented with the HPV vaccine. All children should receive the HPV vaccine between ages 9-12. Anyone with a cervix, regardless of vaccination status, should be screened for cervical cancer per recommendations.

Screening

If you are of average risk, follow these screening guidelines:

  • Ages 21–29: Have a Pap test every 3 years.
  • Ages 30–65: Have any of these options:
    • A Pap test alone every 3 years.
    • A high-risk HPV test alone every 5 years.
    • A high-risk HPV test with a Pap test (co-testing) every 5 years.

If you are at high risk for cervical cancer because of a suppressed immune system (for example, from HIV infection, organ or stem-cell transplant or long-term steroid use), because you were exposed to DES in utero or because you have had cervical cancer or certain precancerous conditions, you may need to be screened more often. Follow the recommendations of your health care provider.  

After age 65, talk with your health care provider about whether you still need to be screened.

Source: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

What Puts You at Increased Risk for Cervical Cancer?

If you have a cervix, you are at increased risk if you: 

  • Are over 30 and have an HPV infection that hasn’t cleared. HPV is a common sexually transmitted virus that can cause at least six types of cancer, including cervical cancer.
  • Began having sex at an early age.
  • Have had multiple sexual partners.
  • Do not have routine cervical cancer screenings.
  • Smoke.
  • Have used birth control pills for a long time.
  • Have a weakened immune system, such as people who have the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
  • Are overweight or obese.
  • Have a close relative, such as a sister or mother, who has had cervical cancer.
  • Were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth.

Reduce Your Risk

  • Follow the guidelines for HPV vaccination.
  • Do not smoke or use tobacco in any way. If you do, quit.
  • Practice safer sex and use a new condom the right way every time you have sex to protect yourself. This does not provide 100% protection.
  • Get screened for cervical cancer based on guidelines and your personal risk factors. You should be screened with a Pap test and/or HPV test even if you have been vaccinated against HPV.

HPV Vaccination

HPV vaccination protects against types of HPV that are most likely to cause cancer (HPV is the cause of more than 90% of cervical cancer cases). It is most effective when given to young people before they are exposed to HPV.

Young people ages 9–12 should get vaccinated against HPV. “Catch-up” vaccination is also recommended for teens and young adults up to age 26. If the HPV vaccine is given as recommended, it can prevent more than 90% of HPV-related cancers, including more than 90% of cervical cancers.

The vaccine is given in two or three shots depending on the age of initial vaccination. 

Read more about other types of cancer that are caused by HPV.

Symptoms

Precancerous conditions of the cervix do not usually cause symptoms and are detected only with a pelvic exam and a Pap or HPV test.

Talk with your health care provider right away if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Increased or unusual discharge from the vagina
  • Blood spots or light bleeding at times other than a normal period.
  • Menstrual bleeding that lasts longer and is heavier than usual
  • Bleeding or pain during or after sex
  • Bleeding after menopause

Cervical cancer usually does not show symptoms until later stages. Pelvic exams and Pap or HPV tests are key to early detection.

Treatment Options

Cervical cancer is treated through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. These therapies may be given alone or in combination with one another.

Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer, the type of tumor cells and your medical condition.

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