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News » Filed under: Cervical Cancer

Cervical Cancer: Testing Can Find it Early and Even Prevent It

Article date: January 22, 2013

By Stacy Simon


During the past few decades, screening has reduced deaths from cervical cancer, as doctors have been able to find cancer early and treat it, or prevent it from ever developing. However, those declines have begun to taper off, according to new statistics from the American Cancer Society. From 2005 to 2009, death rates from cervical cancer remained the same. New cases of cervical cancer declined by 3% per year in women 50 and older, but did not decline in younger women.

Cervical cancer is caused by persistent infection with certain types of Human papilloma virus (HPV). One way of preventing cervical cancer is to get vaccinated against HPV. To get the most out of the HPV vaccine, a woman should get it before she has any type of sexual contact with another person. The American Cancer Society recommends that the vaccine be given to girls at age 11 to 12.

Even with vaccination, though, screening tests are still important for preventing cervical cancer or finding it early. Screenings are tests for people who have no symptoms of cancer.

There are 2 types of tests used for cervical cancer screening.

  • The Pap test can find early cell changes and treat them before they become cancer. The Pap test can also find cervical cancer early, when it’s easier to treat.
  • The HPV test finds HPV infections that can lead to cell changes and cancer. HPV infections are very common, and most go away by themselves and don’t cause these problems. The HPV test may be used along with a Pap test, or to help doctors decide how to treat women who have an abnormal Pap test.

Screening Guidelines

The American Cancer Society released new screening recommendations last March for the prevention and early detection of cervical cancer.

  • All women should begin cervical cancer screening at age 21.
  • Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years. They should not be tested for HPV unless it is needed after an abnormal Pap test result.
  • Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have both a Pap test and an HPV test every 5 years. This is the preferred approach, but it is also OK to have a Pap test alone every 3 years.
  • Women over age 65 who have had regular screenings with normal results should not be screened for cervical cancer. Women who have been diagnosed with cervical pre-cancer should continue to be screened.
  • Women who have had their uterus and cervix removed in a hysterectomy and have no history of cervical cancer or pre-cancer should not be screened.
  • Women who have had the HPV vaccine should still follow the screening recommendations for their age group.
  • Women who are at high risk for cervical cancer may need to be screened more often. Women at high risk might include those with HIV infection, organ transplant, or exposure to the drug DES. They should talk with their doctor or nurse.

The American Cancer Society no longer recommends that women get a Pap test every year, because it generally takes much longer than that, 10 to 20 years, for cervical cancer to develop and overly frequent screening could lead to procedures that are not needed.

Citation: Screening Guidelines for the Prevention and Early Detection of Cervical Cancer. Published online March 14, 2012 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. First author: Debbie Saslow, PhD, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.

Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff

ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases. For reprint requests, please contact permissionrequest@cancer.org.

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