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.
American Indian and Alaska Native women, as a group, have higher rates of cervical cancer than non-Hispanic white women. But rates vary widely across different parts of the country. For instance, Indians of the Southern Plains have especially high cervical cancer rates. American Indians and Alaska Natives also are more likely to be diagnosed with later stage disease than non-Hispanic white women. The good news is that cervical cancer rates among American Indian and Alaska Native women have been decreasing over time as more and more native women have routine screening. But, it's important to note that regions that have the highest rates of cervical cancer also have low rates of cervical cancer screening.
American Indian Health - This website is an information portal to information about the health of native peoples of the United States. The topics include cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and environmental health.
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 - This fact sheet about cervical cancer is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Campaign. The campaign helps women get the facts about gynecologic cancer, providing important “inside knowledge” about their bodies and health.
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.
What You Need To Know About Cancer of the Cervix - This booklet on cervical cancer discusses possible causes, symptoms, treatments, and related emotional issues, and provides questions to ask your doctor. It also includes a glossary of terms and links to other resources.