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Cancer Prevention: Confused About Cervical Cancer Screening?

By Rita Nutt, DNP, RN

Cancer Prevention: Confused About Cervical Cancer Screening?

Get the info on cancer prevention for yourself—and your adolescent kids

HPV Causes Most Cervical Cancer

A virus, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), causes most cervical cancers. There are many different types of HPV but only a few of them cause cancer.

HPV is easily spread through skin-to-skin sexual contact with someone who has the virus. It’s so common that most adults have been infected with it at some point in their lives.

HPV doesn’t always result in cervical cancer—some forms cause genital warts and others cause no symptoms at all. In many cases, an HPV infection will go away on its own without any treatment. The body’s immune system launches an attack against the virus and wins the battle. However, in some cases the virus wins and will eventually lead to abnormal cell growth and cervical cancer.


Shot Against Cancer

When it comes to preventing cancer, 2 vaccines—Gardasil and Cervarix—protect against HPV and are recommended for use in adolescent girls at age 11 or 12, says the CDC, which also recommends that at those ages. HPV vaccination is also recommended for girls and women ages 13-26 who have not yet been vaccinated. Gardasil is also recommended for adolescent boys to protect against anal, penile, throat and mouth cancers, and genital warts.

The vaccines work best if administered between the ages of 9 and 15, and before your daughter or son begins any type of sexual activity. Ideally, both boys and girls need 2 separate injections across a 6-month timeframe. If every boy and girl were vaccinated, cervical cancer could become a thing of the past!

When to Get Checked for Cervical Cancer

Annual well-woman visits that include a breast exam, sexually transmitted infection test and external genital exam are important at all ages. The Pap and HPV testing guidelines have changed recently, causing some confusion. Part of this confusion comes because HPV screening is typically done with your Pap test. When these 2 tests are done together, you can be screened less often. Find your age to see the most updated cervical cancer screening recommendation:


Age 20 or youngerNo screening required
21-29Pap test alone every 3 years; no HPV screening
30-65Pap test every 3 years, or a Pap test and HPV test together every 5 years
66 or olderScreening is no longer required if you’ve had 3 normal Pap tests or 2 normal HPV tests in a row

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