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January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

Regular screening and HPV vaccination will prevent most cervical cancers

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Cervical cancer tends to occur in midlife, and is most frequently diagnosed between the ages of 34 and 44. 

This month, ACS wants to raise awareness that cervical cancer is a highly preventable and treatable cancer. Regular screening with a Pap and HPV test and HPV vaccination will prevent most cervical cancers. 

The ACS has guidelines to help find pre-cancers, which can be treated to keep cervical cancer from forming. Following these guidelines can also find cervical cancer early:

  • All women should begin cervical cancer testing (screening) at age 21. Women aged 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years. 

  • Beginning at age 30, the preferred way to screen is with a Pap test combined with an HPV test every 5 years. This is called co-testing, and should continue until age 65.

  • Another reasonable option for women 30 to 65 is to get tested every 3 years with just the Pap test.

  • Women who are at high risk of cervical cancer because of a suppressed immune system (for example from HIV infection, organ transplant, or long-term steroid use) or because their mother took the drug DES when she was pregnant with them, may need to be screened more often. They should follow the recommendations of their health care team.

  • Women over 65 years of age who have had regular screening in the previous 10 years should stop cervical cancer screening as long as they haven’t had any serious pre-cancers found in the last 20 years. 

  • Women who have had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) should stop screening with Pap tests and HPV tests, unless the hysterectomy was done as a treatment for cervical pre-cancer or cancer. Women who have had a hysterectomy without removal of the cervix (called a supra-cervical hysterectomy) should continue cervical cancer screening according to the guidelines above.

  • Women of any age should NOT be screened every year by any screening method.

  • Women who have been vaccinated against HPV should still follow these guidelines.

The most important risk factor that increases a woman’s chance of cervical cancer is HPV infection. To prevent HPV, the ACS recommends HPV vaccination for girls and boys between the ages of 11 and 12 or starting at age 9. Girls and boys who do not get the vaccine at the recommended age should still get the HPV vaccination until age 26. 

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