Education Before Action
Related Information: Cervical Cancer Screening
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex. There are many types of HPV. Some HPV types can cause changes on a woman’s cervix that can lead to cervical cancer over time, while other types can cause genital warts.
HPV is so common that most people get it at some time in their lives, but HPV usually causes no symptoms so you can’t tell that you have it. For most women, HPV will go away on its own; however, if it does not, there is a chance that, over time, it may cause cervical cancer.
Two tests can help prevent cervical cancer:
- The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.
- The HPV test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.
The Pap test is recommended for all women. Talk with your doctor, nurse, or other health care professional about whether the HPV test is right for you. The most important thing you can do to avoid getting cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests.
More Steps to Help Prevent Cervical Cancer
These things may also help lower your risk for cervical cancer:
- Don’t smoke.
- Use condoms during sex.*
- Limit your number of sexual partners.
In addition to HPV, other things can increase your risk of cervical cancer. They include:
- Not having regular Pap tests.
- Not following up with your doctor if you had a Pap test result that is not normal.
- Having HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or another condition that weakens your immune system (making it hard for your body to fight off health problems).
Signs and Symptoms
Early on, cervical cancer usually does not cause signs and symptoms. Advanced cervical cancer may cause bleeding or discharge from the vagina that is not normal for you, such as bleeding after sex. If you have any of these signs, talk to your doctor. They may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see your doctor.
If your doctor says that you have cervical cancer, ask to be referred to a gynecologic oncologist—a doctor who has been trained to treat cancers of a woman’s reproductive system. This doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan.
*HPV infection can occur in both male and female genital areas that are covered or protected by a latex condom, as well as in areas that are not covered. While the effect of condoms in preventing HPV infection is unknown, condom use has been associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer.
Page last reviewed: December 22, 2008
Page last updated: December 22, 2008
Content source: Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion