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Cervical Cancer Prevention and Screening

Cervical Cancer Screening

Cancer screening exams are important medical tests done when you’re at risk but don’t have symptoms. They help find cancer at its earliest stage, when the chances for successful treatment are highest.

One of the best ways to find cervical cancer in the early stages is to have annual Pap tests. This test’s full name is Papanicolau test, and it also may be called a Pap smear, cervical smear or smear tests. This test finds abnormal cells in and around the cervix.

Discuss your specific need for Pap tests with your gynecologist. It may be important to have regular Pap tests even if you:

  • Have had a hysterectomy
  • Are older than 50 or have gone through menopause
  • Are not sexually active
  • Have finished having children

Read more about MD Anderson’s guidelines for cervical cancer screening

In addition, MD Anderson recommends testing for HPV (human papillomavirus) for some women over 30 years old. This can be done at the same time as your Pap tests. Read more about MD Anderson’s HPV test recommendations.

Cervical Cancer Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting cervical cancer is a risk factor.

HPV, which is spread by sexual contact, is the cause of almost all cases of cervical cancer. HPV may cause the cells in the cervix to change. If abnormal cells are not found and treated, they may become cancer. HPV causes almost all cervical cancers, as well as many vaginal and vulvar cancers.

As many as 75% of men and women who have had sex have HPV. Usually the body’s immune system handles the virus, and most people never know they have it. While most women with HPV will not get cervical cancer, you should be aware of the risk and have regular Pap tests.

Other cervical cancer risk factors include:

  • Age: The risk of cervical cancer increases with age. It is found most often in women over the age of 40. However, younger women often have precancerous lesions that require treatment to prevent cancer.
  • Smoking: Cigarette smoke contains chemicals that damage the body's cells. It increases the risk of precancerous changes in the cervix, especially in women with HPV. Read more about MD Anderson’s smoking cessation clinical trials.
  • Sexual behavior: Certain types of sexual activity may increase the risk of getting HPV infection. These include:
    • Multiple sexual partners
    • High-risk male partners
    • First intercourse at an early age
    • Not using condoms during sex
  • Lack of regular Pap tests
  • Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD), including chlamydia
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure before birth: This drug was used between 1940 and 1971 to help women not have miscarriages. Women whose mothers took DES during pregnancy have a high risk of vaginal and cervical cancers.
  • HIV infection
  • Weakened immune system: Having an organ transplant or taking steroids raise your risk
  • Being overweight or not eating a healthy diet

Not everyone with risk factors get cervical cancer. However, if you have risk factors it’s a good idea to discuss them with your health care provider.

Why Choose MD Anderson?

  • Minimally invasive cervical cancer surgeries, including robotic and laparoscopic hysterectomy
  • Fertility-sparing cervical cancer surgery techniques, including trachelectomy
  • Treatment for pre-cancerous changes of the cervix, including laser surgery
  • Expertise in the treatment of rare neuroendocrine cervical cancers
  • Specialized colposcopy clinic
  • Treatment and quality-of-life clinical trials

Cervical Cancer Knowledge Center

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Cervical Cancer Prevention

Certain lifestyle choices may lower your risk of developing cervical cancer. These include:

  • Have regular Pap tests to find and treat precancerous changes. Read more about MD Anderson's cervical cancer screening guidelines.
  • Take steps to help prevent HPV infection, including the following:
    • Wait until you are older to have sex and limit your number of sexual partners
    • Use condoms during sex
    • Don’t smoke. Read more about MD Anderson's smoking cessation clinical trials.
    • Avoid sex with people with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or who have had multiple sexual partners
    • Get an HPV vaccine: Gardasil® and Cervarix® help protect against certain types of HPV. But if you have HPV, they do not cure it. You should continue to have regular Pap tests after you have receive the vaccine.  Read more about MD Anderson's HPV test recommendations (pdf)

Research shows that many cancers can be prevented. Visit the Prevention section of our website to find out steps you can take to avoid cancer.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center