Cervical Cancer Screening and Prevention

When it comes to cervical cancer, the good news is that there are a few steps you can take to prevent the onset of HPV or catch any abnormal cells before they have the chance to progress.

HPV Vaccine

There is only one HPV vaccine used in the United States. The HPV vaccine protects against infection from nine HPV types, including the high-risk types that cause most HPV-related cancers, as well as those that cause the majority of genital warts. The vaccine is most effective when given between the ages of 9-12 (for both males and females), with eligibility up until 45 years of age. However, individuals between the ages of 27-45 should discuss with their doctor whether or not it is beneficial for them to get the vaccine. It is estimated that HPV vaccination prevents up to 90% of HPV-related cancers.

Since the HPV vaccine was approved in 2006, cervical cancer cases have steadily declined in the United States. However, the rate of other HPV-related cancers without standardized screening guidelines have increased during the same time period. As a result, research has shown that vaccination must be accompanied by routine screening in order to catch cancers early enough.

Pap Test

The Pap test (or Pap smear) is most commonly used to screen for cervical cancer. The Pap test consists of collecting cells from the cervix by using a cotton swab or soft brush. These cells are then viewed under a microscope to determine whether they are normal or abnormal.

HPV Test

The HPV test is used to detect the presence of cervical infection with high-risk HPV types that can cause abnormal cells. Like the Pap test, it involves the collection of cells from the cervix. The results will come back as either positive or negative for HPV.

What are the screening guidelines for cervical cancer?

  • 21 - 29 years old - it is generally recommended that Pap testing begins at age 21 with routine testing every three years (if results are normal)
  • 30 - 65 years old - talk to your doctor about what test(s) are right for you:
    • A Pap test every three years
    • An HPV test every five years
    • An HPV test and Pap test together every five years
  • 65+ - you may not need to be screened anymore if your results have come back normal for 20 years or you had your cervix removed. However, you should always consult with your healthcare provider about whether or not you should continue to be screened for cervical cancer.

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