Cervical cancer prevention

Cervical cancer prevention

Our ability to prevent cervical cancer is one of the significant public health successes of the last 30 years. What used to be the leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the United States has now dropped to an average of only 8 new cases per year per 100,000 women.  Strategies to decrease the number of cases of cervical cancer have focused on two things:

  1. Screening for cervical cancer and its precursors
  2. Vaccinating to prevent human vapilloma virus (HPV) related diseases

Cervical cancer screening

Abnormal cells can be found of the cervix for many months to several years before cancer develops. Identifying these precancerous cells so they can be treated before becoming malignant is the basis for cervical cancer screening.

Screening for cervical cancer has become much more than a simple Pap test. New technologies for abnormal cell screening as well as how these tests are managed continue to evolve.  Because an infection with HPV is necessary to develop cervical cancer, women over 30 are now additionally screened for the types of HPV at the highest risk of causing cervical cancer.  (Some screening protocols only use HPV testing.)

Recommended screening guidelines for women are as follows:

Age 21 21-29 30-64 65+
Low risk First screening Every 3 years Every 5 years (includes testing for high-risk HPV types) None
High risk May need to be screened more frequently May need to continue screening


What can you do to lower your risk of cervical cancer?

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the most important thing you can do to prevent cervical cancer is regular screening. Another is to receive the HPV vaccine.

HPV vaccines are intended to prevent diseases caused by the most common low- and high-risk HPV types. High-risk HPV is associated with cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina and anus, while low-risk HPV can cause other problems such as genital warts. These vaccines are some of the most effective available.  They are more than 99% effective in preventing cervical cancer and genital warts in women who have been exposed to the types of HPV in the vaccine.

Ideally the vaccine should be administered in early adolescence between the ages of 11-12, but any unvaccinated woman age 26 years and younger should receive the HPV vaccine series regardless of sexual activity, prior exposure to HPV or sexual orientation.  Vaccination up to the age of 45 may be appropriate for some women.

Talk to your OB/GYN provider about your risk of developing cervical cancer.  Your provider will help develop a cervical cancer screening plan based on your age and prior screening results. Your provider will also discuss whether vaccination against HPV-related diseases may be right for you.


For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Marshall OB/GYN at 304 691-1400.


David Jude, MD

Dr. Jude is a board-certified OB/GYN and professor and chair of the department of obstetrics & gynecology at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.