Cervical Cancer Screening

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer forms on a woman's cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus. It is a slow-growing cancer that most often is caused by a virus called HPV (human papillomavirus). Generally, there are no symptoms associated with cervical cancer, and because it grows slowly, it is often highly treatable when discovered.

What is cervical cancer screening?

Doctors use a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer, which is when the doctor takes some cells from the cervix during a pelvic exam. A Pap test looks for changes in the cells of the cervix, including cells that could eventually turn into cancer cells. When cervical cancer is found early, it can almost always be cured.

How is cervical cancer screening part of good quality health care?

You and your doctor should talk about if you should be screened for cervical cancer based on your age and risk factors, such as if you have HPV or if you smoke. National standards recommend that women between the ages of 21 and 64 receive a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer at least once every three years. Some women get screened for cervical cancer more often, so it is important to talk to your doctor about whether or not you need a Pap test, and how often. Click here to learn more about Pap tests, when you need them and when you don't.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that 12,000 women get cervical cancer each year in the United States, and most of them are younger than age 55.

How can I reduce my chances of getting cervical cancer?

The risks for developing cervical cancer are higher for women who have HPV or who smoke. If you smoke, you should quit. Teens should get the HPV vaccine as part of their childhood vaccinations, though the vaccine is not recommended for women who are already sexually active. Adult women should get regular Pap tests to screen for signs of cervical cancer.

What should I ask my doctor about cervical cancer?

Questions to ask your doctor about cervical cancer include:

How can I learn more?

Choosing Wisely: Pap tests: When you need them, and when you don't