HPV & Cervical Cancer Quick Facts
Here are some quick facts and resources to help inform you and those around you about how to prevent HPV and cervical cancer. See our “additional resources” for more.
HPV and Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is caused by HPV.
Cervical cancer is caused by “high-risk” types of the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, about 3 of every 4 adults will have had HPV at some time in their lives.
Most HPV infections go away without treatment. Infections that do not go away can cause cells on the cervix to change and become abnormal. Over time, abnormal cells can slowly develop into cervical cancer.
The good news is with proper screening and vaccination, almost every case of cervical cancer can be prevented.
Screening: the Pap test and the HPV test
Cervical cancer does not cause any symptoms until it has advanced to a very late stage. That’s why it’s important to get screened regularly even if you feel healthy.
There are 2 tests used for cervical cancer screening:
- Pap test
The Pap test looks for abnormal cells that can develop into cervical cancer.
If the Pap test finds abnormal cells, your healthcare provider will probably recommend a colposcopy, an exam in which your cervix is viewed more closely. If necessary, the abnormal cells can be treated. Keep in mind: abnormal cells are not yet cancer. If abnormal cells are effectively treated at an early stage, they will not develop into cervical cancer.
- When to have the Pap test: Current U.S. screening guidelines recommend women have their first Pap test at age 21 or within 3 years after becoming sexually active – whichever comes first. The American Cancer Society recommends that women get screened once a year with the regular Pap test and once every two years with the liquid-based Pap test.
- HPV test
The HPV test looks for the high-risk types of HPV that can cause abnormal cervical cells and cervical cancer. If your HPV test is positive, it does not mean you have abnormal cells or cervical cancer. It just means that you have HPV and that your healthcare provider will want to follow-up more closely.
- When to have the HPV test: Current U.S. screening guidelines recommend that women who are 30 or older get an HPV test along with their Pap test. (HPV testing is not recommended for women under the age of 30 because HPV infections in younger women very common and usually disappear on their own.) If both the HPV test and Pap test are normal, women can wait 3 years before their next screening.
HPV vaccination protects against the two most common types of high-risk HPV – 16 and 18 – that cause about 70% percent of all cervical cancers.
- When to have the HPV vaccine: HPV vaccines are most effective when given to girls and young women who are not yet sexually active. The HPV vaccine available in the U.S. is approved for girls and young women ages 9 to 26.
Because HPV vaccines do not protect against all high-risk HPV types, they do not eliminate the risk of cervical cancer. Even women who have been vaccinated must still be screened to prevent cancer developing from HPV types not covered by vaccination
Speak with your healthcare provider about what cervical cancer prevention methods are right for you and how often to get screened.