Can Cervical Cancer Be Prevented?

The most common form of cervical cancer starts with pre-cancerous changes and there are ways to stop this disease from developing. The first way is to find and treat pre-cancers before they become true cancers, and the second is to prevent the pre-cancers.

Finding cervical pre-cancers

A well-proven way to prevent cervical cancer is to have testing (screening). Screening can find conditions that may lead to pre-cancers and can find pre-cancers before they can turn into invasive cancer. The Pap test (or Pap smear) and the human papillomavirus (HPV) test are specific tests used during screenings for cervical cancer. If a pre-cancer is found it can be treated, stopping cervical cancer before it really starts.

The Pap test or smear is a procedure used to collect cells from the cervix so that they can be looked at under a microscope to find cancer and pre-cancers. It's important to know that most invasive cervical cancers are found in women who have not had regular Pap tests. A Pap test can be done during a pelvic exam, but not all pelvic exams include a Pap test.

An HPV test can be done on the same sample of cells collected from the Pap test.  The HPV test can help know if there is an HPV infection which is one condition that can lead to pre-cancers. 

The most important thing you can do to prevent cervical cancer is to be tested according to American Cancer Society guidelines. These can be found in Cervical Cancer Prevention and Early Detection. Information on treatment if the Pap test results are abnormal is also covered.

Things to do to prevent pre-cancers

Based on your age, overall health, and personal risk for cervical cancer, here are some things that may prevent pre-cancers and conditions that lead to pre-cancers.

  • Get an HPV vaccine
  • Get screening tests, including the Pap test and HPV test
  • Do not smoke
  • Limit sex partners
  • Use a condom

More information about ways to prevent cervical pre-cancer and cancer can be found in  Cervical Cancer Prevention and Early Detection.

You can also find information on preventing HPV infection in HPV Vaccines.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: October 19, 2017 Last Revised: January 23, 2019

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