Get the Facts about Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer can be prevented.

Regular screening can help prevent cervical cancer. Screening tests can also find cervical cancer early, when treatment may be most effective.

Women ages 21 to 65 years old should talk to their health care provider about cervical cancer screening.

What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in a woman's cervix. The cervix is the opening of the uterus. It connects the uterus to the vagina.

Cervical cancer usually starts with changes to the cells on the cervix. If found early, these cells can be removed to prevent cancer.

Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

What is the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. HPV causes most cervical cancers, and can also cause cancer of the vagina, penis, anus, and throat.

The HPV vaccine can prevent HPV and the cancers caused by HPV. Both men and women can get HPV and HPV-related cancers.

That's why the HPV vaccine is recommended for girls and boys between the ages of 9 and 14, and young adults through age 26.

What are the Risks for Cervical Cancer?

  • Having HPV. HPV causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer.
  • Not getting screened. Cervical cancer is most often found in women who have not been screened in more than five years or who have never been screened at all.
  • Smoking. Women who smoke are about twice as likely to get cervical cancer compared to non-smokers.
  • Age. Women over the age of 30 are more likely to develop cervical cancer.

Other risk factors include:

  • Having been treated for cervical cancer or dysplasia (precancerous cells)
  • Using birth control pills for five years or longer
  • Giving birth three or more times
  • Having many sexual partners
  • Having HIV or another condition that makes it hard for your body to fight off infections
  • Having a mother who took DES (diethylstilbestrol) while pregnant with you

What are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

A woman with cervical cancer may not have any symptoms. This is why regular screening is so important.

The longer a woman has cervical cancer without treatment, the more likely she will have symptoms. Some of these symptoms can include:

  • Heavy vaginal bleeding or discharge (more than usual)
  • Bleeding after sex, between periods, or after a pelvic exam
  • Pain during sex or urination

If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your health care provider. These symptoms may be caused by something else, but the only way to know for sure is to see your health care provider.

Who Should Get Screened for Cervical Cancer?

  • Women should start cervical cancer screening at age 21.
  • Women ages 21 to 29 years should have a Pap test every three years.
  • Women ages 30 to 65 years should get a Pap test and a HR HPV test every five years (or just a Pap test every three years).
  • Women older than 65 should talk to their health care provider about the need to keep screening.

Women may still need screening even if:

  • They are not having sex
  • They think they are too old to have a child
  • They have had the HPV vaccine

Follow up with your health care provider if your screening results are not normal

How Can I Get Screened for Cervical Cancer?

Screening means checking for signs of cancer before there are symptoms or problems.

There are two screening tests:

Pap Test (or Pap Smear)

A Pap (Papanicolaou) test is done in a doctor's office. Cells are removed from the cervix to look for changes.

High Risk (HR) HPV Test

The HR HPV test looks for the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. This test is usually done at the same time as the Pap test.

Did You Know…

Women ages 21-65 years should have regular screening tests for cervical cancer.

The HPV vaccine can prevent most cervical cancers and some other cancers.

The risk for cervical cancer can also be lowered by using condoms during sex, and not smoking.

Women should always follow-up with a health care provider if their cervical cancer screening results are not normal.

Not Insured?

If you don't have insurance, you may still be able to get screened. The New York State Department of Health Cancer Services Program offers free cervical cancer screening for eligible, uninsured New York residents in every county and borough.

Call 1-866-442-CANCER (2262) to find a program near you.

Need health insurance? You can get information about enrolling in a health plan through the New York State of Health by calling the help line at 855.355.5777 or visit: