How to Prevent Cervical Cancer

How to Prevent Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is cancer that grows on the cervix. The cervix is at the bottom of the uterus. It connects the uterus to the vagina. The uterus is where a baby develops during pregnancy.

Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal and start to grow out of control. Cervical cancer grows slowly and may not cause any symptoms at first. Over time, the cancer can grow deep into the cervix tissue and spread to other areas. If it is found early, cervical cancer can be treated effectively. You can also take steps to prevent this type of cancer.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by an STI (sexually transmitted infection) called human papillomavirus (HPV). One way to reduce your risk of cervical cancer is to avoid infection with the HPV virus.

You can do this by practicing safe intercourse and by getting the HPV vaccine. Getting regular Pap tests is also important because this can help identify changes in cells that could lead to cancer. Your chances of getting this disease can also be reduced by making certain lifestyle changes.

How can I protect myself from cervical cancer?

Preventing HPV infection

  • Ask your health care provider about getting the HPV vaccine. If you are 26 years old or younger, you may need to get this vaccine, which is given in three doses over 6 months. This vaccine protects against the types of HPV that could cause cancer.
  • Limit the number of people you have sex with. Also avoid having sex with people who have had many sex partners.
  • Use a latex condom during sex.

Getting Pap tests

  • Get Pap tests regularly, starting at age 21. Talk with your health care provider about how often you need these tests.
    • Most women who are 21‒29 years of age should have a Pap test every 3 years.
    • Most women who are 30‒65 years of age should have a Pap test in combination with an HPV test every 5 years.
    • Women with a higher risk of cervical cancer, such as those with a weakened immune system or those who have been exposed to the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES), may need more frequent testing.

Making other lifestyle changes

  • Do not use any products that contain nicotine or tobacco, such as cigarettes and e-cigarettes. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider.
  • Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.

Why are these changes important?

  • These changes and screening tests are designed to address the factors that are known to increase the risk of cervical cancer. Taking these steps is the best way to reduce your risk.
  • Having regular Pap tests will help identify changes in cells that could lead to cancer. Steps can then be taken to prevent cancer from developing.
  • These changes will also help find cervical cancer early. This type of cancer can be treated effectively if it is found early. It can be more dangerous and difficult to treat if cancer has grown deep into your cervix or has spread.
  • In addition to making you less likely to get cervical cancer, these changes will also provide other health benefits, such as the following:
    • Practicing safe sex is important for preventing STIs and unplanned pregnancies.
    • Avoiding tobacco can reduce your risk for other cancers and health issues.
    • Eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight are good for your overall health.

What can happen if changes are not made?

In the early stages, cervical cancer might not have any symptoms. It can take many years for the cancer to grow and get deep into the cervix tissue. This may be happening without you knowing about it. If you develop any symptoms, such as pelvic pain or unusual discharge or bleeding from your vagina, you should see your health care provider right away.

If cervical cancer is not found early, you might need treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery. In some cases, surgery may mean that you will not be able to get pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term.

Where to find support

Talk with your health care provider, school nurse, or local health department for guidance about screening and vaccination.

Some children and teens may be able to get the HPV vaccine free of charge through the U.S. government’s Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. Other places that provide vaccinations include:

  • Public health clinics. Check with your local health department.
  • Federally Qualified Health Centers, where you would pay only what you can afford. To find one near you, check this website:  
  • Rural Health Clinics. These are part of a program for Medicare and Medicaid patients who live in rural areas.

The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program also provides breast and cervical cancer screenings and diagnostic services to low-income, uninsured, and underinsured women.

Cervical cancer can be passed down through families. Talk with your health care provider or genetic counselor to learn more about genetic testing for cancer.

Where to find more information

Learn more about cervical cancer from:


  • Talk with your health care provider about getting the HPV vaccine.
  • Be sure to get regular Pap tests as recommended by your health care provider.
  • See your health care provider right away if you have any pelvic pain or unusual discharge or bleeding from your vagina.

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