Cervical cancer screening
Regular testing can catch cancer early.
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What you need to know
Only women get cervical cancer. It’s one of the most preventable cancers with regular screening. Most cases are found in women younger than 50 and it is rare in women under 20.
Additional risk factors include:
- Not getting regular Pap tests
- HIV infection or weakened immune system, e.g., after cancer treatment or organ transplant
- Mothers who took diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant
Some risk factors cannot be changed, such as family history. But actively working to detect and prevent cervical cancers is something you can do with regular screenings.
Screening saves lives
There are two tests that women should have regularly to help reduce the risk of cervical cancer or at least find it early:
- Pap smear screening, also called a “Pap test,” looks to identify any irregularities with the cervix.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) screening looks for the virus that can cause cervical cancer.
If the test shows cells that are not normal, your health care provider can talk with you about how to treat the area.
Researchers say nearly all cervical cancer cases are caused by an infection with HPV, so being immunized can reduce your risk. Though most HPV cases will not become cancer, it’s important to be vigilant and follow screening guidelines.
When to screen
Because we continue to learn more about cervical cancer, guidelines for screening continue to evolve. Discuss the screening schedule that is right for you with your provider. In general, women should start screening at age 21.
The most current recommendation is:
- Women age 21-29 should get a Pap test every three years
- Women age 30-65 should get a Pap and HPV co-test every 3 - 5 years
Women should keep screening through age 65 and possibly older, depending on your personal history. This is true for those who have:
- No history of moderate to severe dysplasia or cancer
- Either three negative Pap tests in a row, or two negative Pap-HPV co-tests in a row within the past 10 years, with the most recent test performed within the past 3 - 5 years
Reducing your risk
Though you can’t change certain risk factors, you can make some lifestyle choices that can greatly improve your health:
- Get enough sleep: Rest and minimizing your stress can help reduce your risk of cancer.
- Improve your diet: You may be able to reduce your risk of cancer by eating more fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t smoke: If you do, quitting will help reduce your risk and improve your heart health, too.
- Maintain a healthy weight: If you are overweight, your provider can help you make a weight-loss plan.
- HPV vaccine and teens: Legacy recommends that girls and boys get the HPV vaccine to prevent future cases of cervical and other cancers. The ideal age is 11-14 years old; however, vaccinations are recommended for those who are 9-26 years old.
More on cervical cancer
Centers for Disease Control: Cervical fact sheet