Each year, more than 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States. Yet cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers today. In most cases cervical cancer can be prevented through early detection and treatment of abnormal cell changes that occur in the cervix years before cervical cancer develops.
We now know that these cell changes are caused by human papillomavirus, commonly known as HPV. The traditional test for early detection has been the Pap test. For women age 30 and over, an HPV test is also recommended. HPV tests can find any of the high-risk types of HPV that are commonly found in cervical cancer.
Current guidelines for cervical cancer screening are:
Women should start screening with the Pap test at age 21. (Screening is not recommended for women under age 21.)
Starting at age 30, women have three options available for screening:
- A Pap test alone every three years
- Co-testing with a Pap and HPV test, every five years
- An HPV test alone, every five years
Depending on the results of the Pap and/or HPV tests, a healthcare provider may recommend additional screening or procedures, so some women may be screened more often.
After age 65, women older than 65 who have had adequate prior screening and are not otherwise at high risk can stop screening.
Women who have had a hysterectomy (with removal of the cervix) also do not need to be screened, unless they have a have a history of a high-grade precancerous lesions.
Along with screening and early detection, HPV vaccines are another important tool to prevent cervical cancer.
HPV vaccines help prevent infection from both high-risk HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer and low risk types that cause genital warts.
The CDC recommends all boys and girls get HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12. The vaccine produces a stronger immune response when taken during the preteen years. For this reason, up until age 14, only two doses are the vaccine are required. Women and men can get the vaccine up to age 45 but for those 15 and older, a full three-dose series is needed.
For more information visit nccc-online.org.