Cervical Cancer

What is it?

Cervical cancer is cancer that begins in the cells lining the cervix (an organ in the reproductive system of those assigned female at birth that connects the uterus to the vagina). It is highly preventable and is most often caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can be prevented with a vaccine.

Anyone with a cervix should be screened per recommendations to look for precancerous cervical cells (which can be removed before they become cancer) or to detect cancer early.

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Get vaccinated and screened

If you have a cervix and are of average risk, follow these vaccination and screening guidelines.* You should follow screening recommendations regardless of whether or not you have been vaccinated against HPV:

*Source: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

Kids, teens and young adults: HPV vaccination

Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination protects against the types of HPV most likely to cause cancer, and it is most effective if done before a person is exposed to the virus. All young people ages 9–12 should get vaccinated against HPV. Vaccination is also recommended for teens and young adults up to age 26 if not fully vaccinated when younger. If the vaccine is given as recommended, it can prevent more than 90% of HPV-related cancers.

Ages 21–29: Pap test

Have a Pap test every 3 years.

Ages 30–65: Pap test and/or HPV test

Have any of these options:

  • A Pap test alone every 3 years.
  • A high-risk HPV test alone every 5 years.
  • A high-risk HPV test with a Pap test (co-testing) every 5 years.

Age 65+: Talk to your doctor

If you’re age 65 or older, talk with your health care provider about whether you still need to be screened.

Increased risk: Additional or more frequent testing

If you are at increased risk for cervical cancer because of a suppressed immune system (for example, from HIV infection, organ or stem-cell transplant or long-term steroid use), because you were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) in utero or because you have had cervical cancer or certain precancerous conditions, you may need to be screened differently (varied intervals or additional tests). Follow the recommendations of your health care provider.

Find the screenings you need

This information will help you and your health care provider decide which cancer screenings you need, when to begin screening and how often you should be screened.

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Know your risk

If you have a cervix, you are at increased risk for cervical cancer if you:

  • Are over 30 and have an HPV infection that hasn’t cleared.
  • Began having sex at an early age (before age 18).
  • Have had multiple sexual partners.
  • Have had sex without using a condom.
  • Do not have routine cervical cancer screenings.
  • Smoke.
  • Have used birth control pills for 5 years or longer.
  • Have a weakened immune system, such as people who have the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
  • Have a close relative (parent, child or sibling) who has had cervical cancer.
  • Were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth.

Reduce your risk

You may reduce your risk for cervical cancer through these lifestyle-related modifications:

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Follow the guidelines for HPV vaccination.

Icon illustration of a cigarette with smoke coming from its tip and a large X over it indicating no smoking.

Do not smoke or use tobacco in any way.

If you do, quit.

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Practice safer sex.

Use a new condom the right way every time you have sex to protect yourself. This does not provide 100% protection.

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Get screened for cervical cancer based on guidelines and your personal risk factors.

You should be screened with a Pap test and/or HPV test even if you have been vaccinated against HPV.

Signs & symptoms

Precancerous conditions of the cervix do not usually cause symptoms and are detected only with a pelvic exam and a Pap test or HPV test.

Cervical cancer usually does not show symptoms until later stages. Pelvic exams and Pap or HPV tests are key to early detection.

Talk with your health care provider right away if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Increased or unusual discharge from the vagina
  • Blood spots or light bleeding at times other than a normal period
  • Bleeding or pain during or after sex
  • Menstrual bleeding that lasts longer and is heavier than usual
  • Bleeding after menopause

Treatment options

Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer, the type of tumor cells and your medical condition.


Surgery is one of the most common treatments for cervical cancer. Types of surgery can range from simple trachelectomy (removal of the cervix) to radical hysterectomy (removal of the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, upper vagina and surrounding tissues, and potentially the ovaries and nearby lymph nodes).


This treatment uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It may be used alone or in combination with another therapy before or after surgery.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be used alone or in combination with another therapy before or after surgery.

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