Historically, cervical cancer was the leading cause of death for women in the United States. Thankfully, over the last 40 years, the rate of cervical cancer has been on a steady decline. This is due to increased awareness of cervical cancer screening and improvements in screening methods.
However, cervical cancer is still the 4th most common female cancer worldwide and the 3rd most common gynecologic cancer in the United States. Worldwide, there were over 570,000 new cases of cervical cancer and 311,000 cervical cancer related deaths in 2018. In the United States, there were 14,500 new cases of cervical cancer and 4,300 deaths.
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is most commonly caused by the HPV virus. There are multiple types of the HPV virus. HPV can be transmitted from person to person during sex. About 80% of sexually active people are infected with the HPV virus during their lifetime.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
- Reduce your risk factors
- Regular cervical cancer screening
- HPV vaccination
What Are the Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?
- Multiple sexual partners
- History of sexually transmitted infections
- High risk sexual behavior
- History of HPV infection
All About Cervical Cancer Screening
Screening can detect abnormal cells on the cervix before the cells become cancer. Cervical cancer screening is performed during a pelvic exam by a pap test and/or HPV test. All women should have a well women exam yearly, but the timing of pap testing is based on your age and medical history.
- You should have your FIRST pap test at age 21
- If you have no history of abnormal pap tests and you have not had a hysterectomy, your doctor may recommend:
- Age 21-29 – every 3 years
- Age 30-65 – every 3 or 5 years
- Gardasil 9 targets the 9 most common types of HPV – 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, 58
- HPV vaccine is recommended for everyone age of 11-12
- HPV vaccine is recommended for everyone age 13-26 not previously vaccinated
- Individuals over the age of 26 may receive the vaccine but may not have insurance coverage
How Can You Make Sure You Get the Most Accurate Result From Your Pap Test?
Avoid putting anything in the vagina (intercourse, douching, medications or tampons) for 2 days prior to your appointment. Contact your doctor’s office before your appointment if you have questions.
What Do You Do if You Have an Abnormal Test?
On average, it takes 3-7 years for precancerous changes to become cancer. If your testing is abnormal, then follow the instructions of your doctor. Many women will need additional testing, colposcopy or cervical biopsies.
For more information on cervical cancer, please visit our Health Library.