Cervical cancer is nearly 100 percent preventable, yet each year, about 15,000 women in the United States learn that they have cancer of the cervix. The occurrence of deaths from cervical cancer has declined significantly. The good news is that cervical cancer is preventable and curable if it is detected early. Cervical cancer rates are higher among older women; however, cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (or CIN), the precursor lesion to cervical cancer, most often occurs among younger women. Therefore, screening younger women is an important strategy that can actually prevent cervical cancer from developing almost 100 percent of the time. Furthermore, when cervical cancer is detected at its earliest stage, the 5-year survival rate is more than 90 percent.
Studies that have identified risk factors associated with cervical cancer have shown that cervical cancer is closely linked to
- certain sexual behaviors
- human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
- immunosuppressive disorders such as HIV/AIDS
- failure to receive regular Pap Smear test screening
Experts agree that infection with certain strains of the HPV is one of the strongest risk factors for cervical cancer. The sexual behaviors specifically associated with greater risk are intercourse at an early age, multiple male sexual partners, and sex with a male partner who has had multiple sexual partners. Experts also agree that one of the most important things a women can do to reduce their risk of cervical cancer is to receive regular screening with a Pap test.
The American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, and others recommend that annual Pap testing should
- begin at the onset of sexual activity or at age 18,
- and less frequently at the discretion of the doctor and patient after three or more annual tests have been normal.
Women who are past menopause (change of life) still need to have regular Pap tests. However, women who have undergone a hysterectomy in which the cervix was removed do not require Pap testing, unless the hysterectomy was performed because of cervical cancer or its precursors.
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Portions of the above information has been provided with the kind permission of the Centers for Disease Control (http://cdc.gov) and The National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov).