CDC: Millions of Women Not Getting Cervical Cancer Tests

A new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that 8 million women who should be getting screening tests for cervical cancer are not getting them. Screening means looking for cancer or pre-cancer in people who have no symptoms of the disease. Screening can prevent cervical cancer or find it early when it’s easier to treat. According to the report, more than half of new cervical cancer cases occur among women who have never – or rarely – been screened.

The CDC’s findings are reported in the November 2014 issue of Vital Signs. Researchers used data from the 2012 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey to find out how many women ages 21 to 65 years had not been screened for cervical cancer in the last 5 years. They used the CDC’s National Program of Cancer Registries and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program (SEER) to calculate the number of women who were diagnosed with cervical cancer between 2007 and 2011. Cervical cancer deaths were based on death certificates submitted to the National Vital Statistics System.

Cervical cancer can be prevented

According to the report, almost all cervical cancer – as much as 93% – could be prevented by screening and HPV vaccination. More than 12,000 women get cervical cancer every year.

In 2012, 11.4% of women reported they had not been screened for cervical cancer in the past 5 years; the percentage was larger for women without health insurance (23.1%) and for those without a regular health care provider (25.5%).

Federal efforts to increase screening rates include the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which provides low-income, uninsured, and underinsured women access to breast and cervical cancer screening. In addition, the Affordable Care Act provides access to more women by requiring that health insurance includes coverage for cervical cancer screening and HPV vaccines. For more information visit (for Spanish,, or call 1-800-318-2596.

The report encourages doctors, nurses, and health systems to use all medical visits as an opportunity to educate women about cervical cancer screening, and to screen or refer them to a place where they can be tested. Health care professionals should also strongly recommend that preteens and teens get vaccinated for HPV, the report says.

“Every visit to a provider can be an opportunity to prevent cervical cancer by making sure women are referred for screening appropriately,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias, Ph.D. “We must increase our efforts to make sure that all women understand the importance of getting screened for cervical cancer. No woman should die from cervical cancer.”

Cervical cancer screening and HPV

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. A woman should be vaccinated before she has any type of sexual contact with another person. The American Cancer Society recommends that the HPV 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. The American Cancer Society recommends regular cervical cancer screening for women age 21 and older.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

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