Cervical Cancer: Screening and Prevention
Cervical cancer can often be prevented by having regular screenings with Pap tests and human papillomavirus (HPV) tests to find any precancers and treat them. It can also be prevented by receiving the HPV vaccine.
The HPV vaccine Gardasil is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for prevention of cervical cancer caused by HPV for people between ages 9 and 45. Gardasil 9 is available in the United States for preventing infection from HPV16, HPV18, and 5 other types of HPV linked with cancer. There were 2 other vaccines previously available in the United States: Cervarix and the original Gardasil. However, because of newer vaccines becoming available, these 2 are no longer available in the United States. However, these vaccines may still be in use outside of the United States.
To help prevent cervical cancer, HPV vaccination is recommended for all adolescents as part of their routine vaccines. It may be given starting at age 9. Talk with your health care provider about the appropriate schedule for vaccination as it may vary based on many factors, including age, gender, and vaccine availability.
Additional actions people can take to help prevent cervical cancer include:
- Delaying first sexual intercourse until the late teens or older
- Limiting the number of sexual partners
- Practicing safer sex by using condoms and dental dams
- Avoiding sexual intercourse with people who have had many partners
- Avoiding sexual intercourse with people who are infected with genital warts or who show other symptoms
- Quitting smoking
Screening information for cervical cancer
Screening is used to detect precancerous changes or early cancers before signs or symptoms of cancer occur. Scientists have developed, and continue to develop, tests that can be used to screen a person for specific types of cancer before signs or symptoms appear. The overall goals of cancer screening are to:
- Reduce the number of people who die from the cancer, or completely eliminate deaths from the cancer
- Reduce the number of people who develop the cancer
The following tests and procedures may be used to screen for cervical cancer:
- HPV test. This test is done on a sample of cells removed from the cervix, the same sample used for the Pap test (see below). This sample is tested for the strains of HPV most commonly linked to cervical cancer. HPV testing may be done by itself or combined with a Pap test. This test may also be done on a sample of cells collected from the vagina, which a person can collect on their own.
- Pap test. The Pap test has been the most common test for early changes in cells that can lead to cervical cancer. This test is also called a Pap smear. A Pap test involves gathering a sample of cells from the cervix. It is often done at the same time as a bimanual pelvic exam as part of a gynecologic checkup. A Pap test may be combined with an HPV test.
- Visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA). VIA is a screening test that can be done with a few tools and the naked eye. During VIA, a dilution of white vinegar is applied to the cervix. The health care provider then looks for abnormalities on the cervix, which will turn white when exposed to vinegar. This screening test is very useful in places where access to medical care is limited.