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Cervical cancer

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.

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Content last updated: May 18, 2010.

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