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Two vaccines (Cervarix and Gardasil) can protect girls and young women against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. The vaccines work best when given before a person's first sexual contact, when she could be exposed to HPV. Both vaccines are recommended for 11 and 12 year-old girls. But the vaccines also can be used in girls as young as 9 and in women through age 26 who did not get any or all of the shots when they were younger. These vaccines are given in a series of three shots. It is best to use the same vaccine brand for all three doses. Ask your doctor which brand vaccine is best for you. The vaccine does not replace the need to wear condoms to lower your risk of getting other types of HPV and other sexually transmitted infections. Women who have had the HPV vaccine still need to have regular Pap tests.
Cervical cancer is a disease in which cancer cells are found in the tissues of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (where a baby grows). Cervical cancer is caused by several types of a virus called human papillomavirus (pap-uh-LOH-muh-veye-ruhss), or HPV. HPV is very common. It spreads through sexual contact. Most women's bodies are able to fight off infection with HPV. But in some women, HPV can cause normal cells in the cervix to turn into cancer. This usually happens over a period of time. Cancer that goes untreated starts to grow and spread more deeply into the cervix and to nearby areas.
The good news is that cervical cancer is the easiest female cancer to prevent. By getting regular Pap tests, your doctor can find and treat abnormal cells before they turn into cancer.
Women should have their first Pap test at age 21. After your first Pap test, you should have a Pap test every two to three years depending on your age and other factors. Ask your doctor about how often you need a Pap test. Women who have had the HPV vaccine still need to have Pap tests.
African-American women develop cervical cancer more often than white women and are more than twice as likely to die from it. Screening is very important to help reduce this disparity. In fact, 6 in 10 cervical cancers occur in women who have never received a Pap test or have not been tested in the past five years.
The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) program provides free or low-cost Pap testing to women who don't have health insurance. To learn more about this program, please contact the CDC at 800-CDC-INFO (232-4636).
Read more from womenshealth.gov
Cervical Cancer Fact Sheet — This fact sheet answers the common questions patients have regarding cervical cancer.
Explore other publications and websites
A Snapshot of Cervical Cancer — This publication describes trends in cervical cancer diagnosis and death rates. It also lists some advances in researchers’ understanding of cervical cancer.
A Woman's Guide to Understanding HPV and Cervical Cancer (Copyright © Association of Reproductive Health Professionals) — This brochure educates women about human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer. It includes information on new technologies, with a focus on women currently undergoing screening for HPV.
Cancer Facts and Figures for African Americans 2009-2010 (Copyright © American Cancer Society) — This publication presents the most recent statistics on the rate of cancer diagnosis, survival, and deaths in African-Americans. It also includes sections on cancer risk factors such as tobacco use and lack of physical activity, as well as the use of cancer screening examinations.
Cancer Health Disparities — This on-line fact sheet gives a brief overview of the currently available data on cancer health disparities among racial and ethnic groups. It also summarizes some NCI research projects and initiatives designed to understand and eventually eliminate these disparities.
Cervical Cancer Screening (PDQ®) — Patients — This page-by-page explanation of cervical cancer screening provides information about the risk factors for cervical cancer and the effectiveness of common screening methods. It also includes links for information about prevention and treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cervical Cancer/HPV Vaccine Access in the U.S. (Copyright © American Social Health Association) — Left untreated, human papillomavirus (HPV) can lead to a variety of cancers. This fact sheet discusses the importance of getting the HPV vaccine. It describes Gardasil — currently the only FDA-approved HPV vaccine on the market — and the ages at which girls and young women can get the vaccine.
Inside Knowledge Campaign: Get the Facts About Gynecologic Cancer — This site is designed to spread awareness to women about the different types of gynecological cancers. With early detection, treatments for gynecological cancers are very effective.
You Are a Survivor: Living After Cancer Treatment (Copyright © Lance Armstrong Foundation) — This is a brochure written specifically for African-American cancer survivors. It raises awareness of the physical, practical, and emotional concerns of cancer survivors; lists resources; and encourages survivors to seek support.
Connect with other organizations
American Cancer Society
Foundation for Women's Cancer
National Cervical Cancer Coalition
Content last updated May 18, 2010.
Resources last updated May 18, 2010.
A federal government website managed by the Office on Women's Health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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