Cervical Cancer

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

Can cervical cancer be found early?

Cervical cancer can usually be found early by having regular screening with a Pap test (which may be combined with a test for HPV). As Pap testing became routine in this country during the past half century, pre-invasive lesions (pre-cancers) of the cervix became far more common than invasive cancer. Being alert to any signs and symptoms of cervical cancer (see "How are cervical cancers and pre-cancers diagnosed?") can also help avoid unnecessary delays in diagnosis. Early detection greatly improves the chances of successful treatment and prevents any early cervical cell changes from becoming cancerous.

The importance of screening in finding cervical cancer and pre-cancerous changes

In countries where women cannot get routine cervical cancer screening, cervical cancer is much more common. In fact, cervical cancer is the major cause of cancer death in women in many developing countries. These cases are usually diagnosed at a late (and invasive) stage, rather than as pre-cancers or early cancers.

Not all American women take advantage of the benefits of cervical cancer screening. About half of the cervical cancers diagnosed in the United States are found in women who were never screened for the disease. Another 10 percent are found in women who hadn’t been screened within the past 5 years. In particular, older women, those without health insurance, and women who are recent immigrants are less likely to have regular cervical cancer screening.

Financial help for cervical cancer screening

Tests for breast cancer and cervical cancer are now more available to medically underserved women through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP). This program offers breast and cervical cancer early detection testing to women without health insurance for free or at very little cost. It may also help cover the costs of further tests and treatment, if needed.

The NBCCEDP tries to reach as many women in medically underserved communities as possible, including older women, women without health insurance, and women of racial and ethnic minority groups. Although each state runs its own program, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) give matching funds and support to each state program.

This program is offered mainly through nonprofit organizations and local health clinics, and is aimed at providing testing for breast and cervical cancer in medically underserved women. Contact the CDC at 1-800-232-4636 or check online at www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp to find the program closest to you.

Last Medical Review: 04/11/2013
Last Revised: 08/15/2014