Ask about the recommended health screenings for women for your age group.
Discuss any symptoms you may be having. Since Pap tests also screen for precancerous changes on the cervix, abnormal results do not necessarily mean you have cervical cancer. Decide today to complete your Pap test.
Cervical cancer, which forms in the tissues of the cervix (the organ connecting the uterus and vagina), is almost always caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which is spread through sexual contact.
All women are at risk for cervical cancer, but it occurs most often in women over age 30. Your risk for HPV infection is greater if you began having sex at an early age (16 years or younger) and/or if you or your partner has had several partners.
The following are some additional risk factors:
Having HIV or another condition that weakens the immune system
Taking birth control pills for five or more years
Giving birth to three or more children
The American Cancer Society recommends screening for women:
21 to 29 years of age every three years using cytology-based screening, commonly known as a Pap test.
30 to 65 years of age every three years using cervical cytology or every five years using cervical cytology and HPV co-testing.
Are under age 21.
Are over age 65 who have had adequate prior screening and are not otherwise at high risk for cervical cancer.
Have had a hysterectomy, including removal of the cervix, and who do not have a history of cervical cancer or high-grade precancerous lesions.
HPV causes cervical cancer. However, HPV vaccination alone will not protect you. There are a few things that can further reduce the risk of getting cervical cancer:
Have regular screening exams
Use condoms during sex
Get the HPV vaccine
HPV is short for human papillomavirus, a group of more than 100 viruses that are passed on through sex. HPV infections are very common – most men and women have them, though most will never even know it. In most cases, HPV does not cause any health problems. However, some HPV types can cause changes to cells in the cervix and lead to cancer. That’s why the HPV vaccine is so important.
The HPV vaccine was developed to prevent cervical cancer. It works by protecting against the types of HPV that most commonly cause these diseases. The vaccine, Gardasil®, is given in three shots over six months. Note: Even after you’ve had the HPV vaccination, you still need to have regular tests to screen for cervical cancer.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for 11- and 12-year old girls. It is also recommended for girls and women ages 13 through 26 who have not yet been vaccinated or completed the vaccine series.
The HPV vaccine provides almost 100% protection in preventing HPV-caused cervical cancer, when it is given before a woman starts to have sex. The vaccine does not work as well in women who have already been exposed to HPV, which is why doctors recommend getting the vaccine at a young age. Ask your doctor about it if you haven’t had the HPV vaccine yet.