Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. Cancer is always named for the part of the body where it starts, even if it spreads to other body parts later. When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. The cervix connects the vagina (birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus. The uterus (or womb) is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant.
WHO IS AT RISK?
All women are at risk for cervical cancer. It occurs most often in women over age 30. Long-lasting infection with certain types of human papilloma virus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex. At least half of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives, but few women will get cervical cancer.
SCREENING AND TESTING
Cervical cancer is highly preventable in most Western countries because screening tests and a vaccine to prevent HPV infections are available. When cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable and associated with long survival and good quality of life.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS?
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by human papilloma virus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex. There are many types of HPV. Some HPV types can cause changes on a woman’s cervix that can lead to cervical cancer over time, while other types can cause genital or skin warts.
HPV is so common that most people get it at some time in their lives. HPV usually causes no symptoms so you can’t tell that you have it. For most women, HPV will go away on its own; however, if it does not, there is a chance that over time it may cause cervical cancer.
OTHER RISKS OF CERVICAL CANCER
Having HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or another condition that makes it hard for your body to fight off health problems.
Using birth control pills for a long time (five or more years).
Having given birth to three or more children.
Having several sexual partners.
HOW TO REDUCE RISKS OF CERVICAL CANCER?
The most important thing you can do to help prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests starting at age 21.
Two screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early—
The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for pre-cancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer.
The HPV test looks for the virus (human papilloma virus) that can cause these cell changes.
Both tests can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic. If you have a low income or do not have health insurance, you may be able to get free or low-cost screening tests through CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Find out if you qualify. Checkout the page on this site "Breast and Cervical Help."
The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers.
HPV vaccination is recommended for preteens aged 11 to 12 years, but can be given starting at age 9.
HPV vaccine also is recommended for everyone through age 26 years, if they are not vaccinated already.
HPV vaccination is not recommended for everyone older than age 26 years. However, some adults age 27 through 45 years who are not already vaccinated may decide to get the HPV vaccine after speaking with their doctor about their risk for new HPV infections and the possible benefits of vaccination. HPV vaccination in this age range provides less benefit, as more people have already been exposed to HPV.
If vaccination is started before age 15, a two-dose schedule is recommended, with the doses given 6 to 12 months apart. For people who start the series after their 15th birthday, the vaccine is given in a series of three shots.
HPV vaccination prevents new HPV infections, but does not treat existing infections or diseases. This is why the HPV vaccine works best when given before any exposure to HPV. You should get screened for cervical cancer regularly, even if you received an HPV vaccine.
MORE STEPS TO HELP PREVENT CERVICAL CANCER
Use condoms during sex.*
Limit your number of sexual partners.
*HPV infection can occur in both male and female genital areas that are covered or protected by a latex condom, as well as in areas that are not covered. While the effect of condoms in preventing HPV infection is unknown, condom use has been associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer.
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