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Cervical cancer prevention and screening

Every year, about 12,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer.1 Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is passed from person to person through sexual contact. HPV infection usually goes away on its own, but if it does not, it can lead to cervical cancer if left untreated.2

In 1991, the CDC created the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP). Since the start of the program, more than 28,000 women have had cervical cancers or precancerous lesions detected through this free or low-cost screening. Also in 1991, the FDA approved the first diagnostic test for the detection of high-risk, or cancer-causing, HPV types.3

In 2000, Congress passed the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act, which allows uninsured women who are diagnosed with cancer in the NBCCEDP access to treatment through their state's Medicaid program. In 2001, with passage of the Native American Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Technical Amendment Act, American Indian and Alaska Native women are also eligible for this option if they are eligible for health services provided by IHS or by a tribal organization.

Prevention of cervical cancer became possible in 2006 when the FDA approved the first HPV vaccine. A second vaccine was approved in 2009.4 NIH National Cancer Institute researchers are the first and second inventors on government-owned patents for HPV vaccines licensed to drug companies. As a direct result of their work, vaccines now can prevent high-risk HPV infections.5In 2013, CDC researchers reported that the rates of high-risk HPV have fallen by 56% among U.S. girls ages 14 to 19.6 The 2010 Affordable Care Act requires that most insurers cover, at no cost, the HPV vaccinePap testing, and HPV testing.


  1. NIH, NCI, Cervical Cancer
  2. NIH, NCI, Cancer Advances in Focus – Cervical Cancer
  3. FDA, Digene Hybrid Capture 2 High-Risk HPV DNA Test - P890064 S009 A004
  4. CDC, FDA Licensure of Bivalent Human Papillomavirus Vaccine (HPV2, Cervarix) for Use in Females and Updated HPV Vaccination Recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)
  5. NIH, NCI, Notes
  6. CDC, Press Release