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Cervical Cancer Awareness & Prevention


Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, the American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 13,170 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2019. The majority of cervical cancer diagnoses are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted virus. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 90% of men and 80% of women who are sexually active will be infected with HPV during their lifetime. The infection often does not cause symptoms and may clear without medical intervention. If the virus does not clear, it can result in genital warts, pre-cancerous changes of the genital tract (vulva, vagina, cervix) or genital tract cancers.

Cervical Cancer Risk Factors

Infection with HPV is the greatest risk factor for development of cervical cancer. Other risk factors for cervical cancer include:

  • Family history
  • Smoking
  • Long-term use of birth control pills
  • A weakened immune system
  • Having sex early in life and/or with multiple partners
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) in utero

While these factors can increase the chance of being diagnosed with cervical cancer, having one or multiple risk factors does not mean that someone will get cervical cancer. Fortunately, screening tests and preventative measures for cervical cancer are available. Regular screenings and vaccines for HPV prevention paired with lifestyle choices can help prevent cervical cancer or find it an early, more treatable stage.

Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines

Guidelines for cervical cancer screening vary by age, but may include pap smears and HPV testing. A pap smear is a test used to evaluate a sample of cells from the cervix for pre-cancerous or cancerous changes. A pap smear can be completed alone or together with HPV testing. HPV testing aims to determine if there is an infection with a high risk strain of HPV.

You should discuss with your doctor how you should be screened for cervical cancer. Recommendations may vary depending on your age, the type of screening test performed and your other medical conditions. General recommendations for cervical cancer screening include:

Patient Age Screening
<21 years old Should not be screened regardless of age of sexual initiation
21-29 years old

Every three years with pap smear alone

Routine screening for HPV is not recommended

30-65 years old

Every five years with pap smear and HPV testing is preferred

Every three years with pap smear alone

>65 years old May stop screening if there has been adequate negative prior testing, patient is not high risk and there is no history of high grade pre-cancerous changes

Cervical Cancer Prevention

In addition to staying up-to-date on cervical cancer screening, the HPV vaccine has been developed to help prevent cervical cancer. The vaccine is recommended for minors and adults (both women and men) up to age 45. The most recent version of the HPV vaccine helps protect against nine strains of the virus, including those considered high risk for causing cervical cancer. Because the vaccine does not protect against all strains of the virus, it is important that women stay current with recommended cervical cancer screening. If you are interested in getting yourself or your children vaccinated, please ask your doctor for more information.

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