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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.
Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are more likely to have cervical cancer than white women. Yet they are much less likely to have regular Pap tests.
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).
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More information on Cervical cancer
Read more from womenshealth.gov
- Cervical Cancer Fact Sheet - This fact sheet answers the common questions patients have regarding cervical cancer.
- Pap Test Fact Sheet - This fact sheet explains what a Pap test is, why women need routine Pap tests, how it is performed, and what the results mean.
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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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Content last updated: May 18, 2010.
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