Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women worldwide. However, with regular screenings, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and healthy habits, most cervical cancers can be prevented.
Regular pap tests can help detect cervical cancer. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends the following Pap test screening guideline:
- Women should begin having Pap tests 3 years after first having sexual intercourse, or when reaching 21 years of age. However, women should begin visiting a gynecologist at a younger age.
- Most* women under the age of 30 should have a Pap screening every year.
- Most* women over the age of 30 who have had should have a Pap test 3 years in a row may reduce screenings to one every 2 to 3 years.
- Women 65 to 70 years of age who have had at least 3 normal Pap tests and no abnormal Pap tests in the past 10 years may decide, after speaking with their doctor, to stop cervical cancer screening.
- Women who have had a hysterectomy (surgery) to remove the uterus and cervix, also called a total hysterectomy, do not need to have cervical cancer screening. However, if the surgery was treatment for precancerous cells or cancer, screening should continue.
*Women of any age who are immunocompromised, are infected with HIV, were exposed in utero to DES, or were previously diagnosed with cervical cancer should be screened annually, even after age 30. Other women may have to see their gynecologists and have Pap screenings done more often. Ask your doctor if you have questions.
For more information about Pap smear screening guidelines, visit the National Cancer Institute website.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the approved HPV vaccine, Gardasil®, provides protection against the HPV virus types that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer. It is recommended that the following girls and women should receive the vaccine:
- Girls, 11 to 12 years of age and sometimes as young as 9 years of age
- Girls and women, 13 to 26 years of age who have not yet received or completed the vaccine series
For more information about who should receive the vaccine, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Living a healthy lifestyle can also aid in reducing the risk of cervical cancer. Healthy habits include:
- No Smoking—Smoking exposes the body to many cancer-causing chemicals that affect more than the lungs. Women who smoke are about twice as likely as nonsmokers to get cervical cancer. In fact, tobacco byproducts have been found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke. If you smoke, learn how you can quit.
- Maintain a Healthy Diet—Eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day will provide you with the nutrients and fiber you need to stay healthy, maintain weight and reduce the risk for cervical cancer. The Food and Activity Guide Pyramid is a guide to healthy living.
In addition to the above practices, knowing your family history is essential to early detection. Women with a history of cervical cancer in their families are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop this type of cancer.