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 cervix cancer is to have testing (screening) to find pre-cancers before they can turn into invasive cancer. The Pap test (or Pap smear) and the human papilloma virus (HPV) test are used for this. If a pre-cancer is found it can be treated, stopping cervical cancer before it really starts. Most invasive cervical cancers are found in women who have not had regular Pap tests.
The Pap test (or Pap 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-cancer. These cells can also be used for HPV testing. 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 for the Pap test.
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 our document Cervical Cancer Prevention and Early Detection . This document also has information about the work-up and treatment of women with abnormal Pap test results.
Things to do to prevent pre-cancers
There are also some things you can do to prevent pre-cancers, such as:
- Avoiding exposure to HPV
- Getting an HPV vaccine
- Not smoking
More information about ways to prevent cervical pre-cancer and cancer can be found in our document Cervical Cancer Prevention and Early Detection.
You can also find information on preventing HPV infection in our document, HPV Vaccines.
Last Medical Review: 09/19/2014
Last Revised: 01/29/2016