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How can I prevent cervical cancer?

The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to encourage young women and men to get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (this vaccine also helps prevent other HPV-related cancers). This is in addition to the Pap smear, which has been the traditional way to discover and treat precancer of the cervix.

Finally, smoking distorts the immune system of the cervix, which, in combination with HPV, is a terrible combination. Therefore, it's important not to smoke as well as take the HPV vaccine.

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Many cervical cancer cases are caused by exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted disease. HPV affects up to 80 percent of females and males in their lifetime. Many cases of HPV clear on their own, but certain types of HPV can cause cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancer in females. This is why it is important to get the HPV vaccine before sexual activity begins. Because there are other risk factors for cervical cancer, Penn Medicine gynecologists recommend several methods to prevent cervical cancer. Regular screenings, vaccines for preventing the human papilloma virus (HPV) and lifestyle choices can prevent cervical cancer or help find cervical cancer at an early stage when it is most treatable.
Detecting precancerous changes in their earliest stages through regular Pap tests is the best way to prevent cervical cancer. Most women who develop invasive cervical cancer have not had regular Pap tests. Reducing or eliminating risk factors associated with the development of cervical cancer can also help prevent it:
  • Don't smoke cigarettes.
  • Use condoms correctly and consistently to protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases. Note, however, that while condom use will decrease the risk of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, it can't prevent it entirely because HPV can infect cells anywhere on the skin in the genital area.
Additionally, the FDA has approved two HPV vaccines, called Gardasil and Cervarix. Gardasil protects women against four HPV types. HPV screening of women ages 30 and over is also an important part of preventing potential complications of cervical cancer. The easiest way to screen for HPV is with the HPV test, which checks for the virus itself. The Pap test can identify cervical cancer in its earliest stage but can also find abnormal precancerous cells and signs of an active HPV infection.
Three vaccines have been approved to protect against the two strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) that are linked to most cases of cervical cancer. The vaccines are recommended for girls and young women between 11 and 26 years old, but can be given starting at nine years of age. Discuss with your healthcare provider whether an HPV vaccine is right for you or other women in your family. Regular screening, such as a Pap test, is still recommended since the vaccines do not cover all types of HPV that may cause cervical cancer.
Dr. Linus T. Chuang, MD
Gynecologic Oncologist

Get HPV vaccinations if you are between 9-26 years old. Begin pap smear screening after 21 years old and co-testing with pap and HPV starting at 30 years old every 3-5 years. It is unlikely one will develop cervical cancer with this screening process. The only other thing is to not to smoke.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Regular PAP tests and quitting smoking can help you avoid cervical cancer. Watch the video to learn more.

If you have human papillomavirus (HPV), you should make sure you obtain routine Pap smears (women) or urine tests (men). Women should also have gynecologic examinations yearly, or as often as the gynecologist recommends. The importance of routine gynecologic examinations is to detect precancerous cells and prevent cervical cancer from making your RealAge (physiologic age) older. Women who have been exposed to the virus are more likely to develop cervical cancers.

In fact, almost all women with positive results on a Pap smear show evidence of having been exposed to the virus. Positive Pap smear results do not mean you have cancer. Most positive results merely identify an increased risk of developing cancer. If you do get a positive result, you will want to be especially careful about having the condition monitored. Your gynecologist may recommend biannual or quarterly Pap smears or treatments to remove precancerous cells and prevent the development of full-blown cervical cancer.

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Scientists have developed a vaccine that helps prevent certain types of HPV. The vaccine helps protect against the types of HPV that most often cause cancer. Right now, the HPV vaccine (called Gardasil) is only given to females ages 9 to 26. The vaccine is given in two or three doses (shots) over a six-month period. Women who are pregnant should not get the HPV vaccine until after the baby is born.

The HPV vaccine works best in females who haven't been exposed to the virus. It protects against four types of HPV. Studies show the vaccine prevents about 70 percent of cervical cancers if it is given to women and girls before they have sex for the first time. It also protects against about 90 percent of genital warts. The shot works for at least five years, maybe longer. It is still under study.

About 30 percent of cervical cancers will not be prevented by the vaccine. But there are other ways to help prevent cervical cancer. By getting regular Pap tests and pelvic exams, your doctor can find and treat the changing cells before they turn into cancer. Practicing safer sex is also very important. Below are things you can do to help protect yourself against HPV and cervical cancer.

  • Don't have sex. The best way to prevent any STI is to not have vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
  • Be faithful. Having sex with just one partner can also lower your risk. Be faithful to each other. That means that you only have sex with each other and no one else.
  • Use condoms. HPV can occur in both female and male genital areas that are not covered by condoms. However, research has shown that condom use is linked to lower cervical cancer rates. Protect yourself with a condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

This answer is based on source information from National Women's Health Information Center.

The best thing you can do to avoid cervical cancer is to get your regular pap screenings. Pap smears detect irregular cells in the cervical lining before they become cancerous. The FDA has also approved an HPV screening test that may be used with or in place of the Pap test. If you are a younger woman or have a teenaged daughter who is not yet sexually active, look into the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. It will prevent HPV infections that can lead to cervical cancer. Be smart sexually. Avoid sexual contact with some who has HPV and know a partner's sexual history to protect yourself from exposure to HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Most cases of cervical cancer are easily preventable with regular screening tests and follow-up. It also is highly curable when found and treated early. Now vaccines are available to protect against the most common cause of cervical cancer.

Dr. Scott A. Kamelle, MD
Gynecologic Oncologist

Cervical cancer is best prevented by immunizing both boys and girls before exposure. Current recommendations suggest HPV immunization at the age of 11 years. HPV is the virus that is responsible for causing cervical cancer. Gardesil vaccine effectively immunizes patients against HPV types 16 and 18. These two subtypes are responsible for the majority of cervical cancer cases. For patients not eligible for the vaccine, annual visits to the gynecologist, which should include cervical pap screening, should protect one from developing cervix cancer.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.