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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.
Asian-American women are much less likely to get routine Pap tests than women in other groups. This may be due, in part, to the widespread misconception that Asian-American women are not at risk of cervical cancer. But this is not true. In fact, Laotian, Samoan, and Vietnamese women have the highest cervical cancer rates in the United States. Women who do not get regular Pap tests have higher rates of cervical cancer.
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
Asian American and Pacific Islander Women's Health: Multilingual Cancer Screening Recommendations — This multilingual site offers several languages to help Asian-American, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian women understand the importance of having mammograms and pap smears at regular intervals. Materials are offered in Samoan, Cambodian, Laotian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Thai.
Asian Language Materials (Copyright © American Cancer Society) — This Internet lists the American Cancer Society materials available in several Asian languages, including Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese.
Asian Pacific Islander Cancer Education Materials Tool (Copyright © American Cancer Society) — This catalog of information about cancer provides links to websites that offer Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians education materials on a variety of cancer topics.
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: What Vietnamese Women Should Know — This booklet, written in Vietnamese, provides information about the importance of Pap tests to detect cervical cancer.
FAQs about Cervical Cancer/HPV Vaccine Access in the U.S. (Copyright © American Social Health Association) — This fact sheet provides information about HPV vaccines. It explains the vaccination recommendations and the most effective distribution methods and ages for administering the vaccine.
HPV Vaccine Information For Young Women — This fact sheet answers commonly asked questions about the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which is given to young women to prevent the types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer and genital warts.
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.
Strength as a Survivor: Living After Cancer Treatment (Copyright © Lance Armstrong Foundation) — This brochure was written for Asian-American cancer survivors. It discusses the many physical, practical, and emotional concerns of cancer survivors. The brochure encourages survivors to seek support and lists organizations that can help them manage their concerns.
The Pap Test — This fact sheet answers questions that women commonly have about the pelvic exam and Pap test, why each is important, how each is performed and by whom, how the results are interpreted, and what can cause an abnormal Pap test result.
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.
Connect with other organizations
American Cancer Society
Asian American Network for Cancer Awareness, Research, and Training
Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum
Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations
National Asian Women's Health Organization
National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, CDC
National Cervical Cancer Coalition
Office of Minority Health, HHS
Content last updated May 18, 2010.
Resources last updated May 18, 2010.
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