Cervical cancer occurs in the cervix. The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus (womb) which connects to the vagina (birth canal). Most cervical cancers are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV).
Anyone with a cervix is at risk of cervical cancer. It occurs most often in people over the age of 30. Long-lasting infection with certain types of a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sexual contact. You can learn more about HPV on our website.
What Can You Do? Vaccinate and Get Screened!
Cervical cancer can be prevented by getting vaccinated against HPV (Human Papillomavirus), and by getting regular screening tests and follow-up. Cervical cancer is highly treatable if caught early. However, regular screening is important because cervical cancer often does not cause symptoms until it is advanced. It is important to get screened even when you feel healthy.
What is cervical cancer screening?
Screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early:
- The Pap test (also called a Pap smear) looks for changes in cells on the cervix that could turn into cancer if left untreated. It also looks for cells that have already turned into cancer.
- The HPV test looks for the virus that causes these cell changes.
- Both tests are done by taking cells from your cervix with a swab so they can be looked at with a microscope.
You can learn more about what a Pap test is and how to prepare for one on this page from the CDC: What Should I Know About Cervical Cancer Screening? | CDC
Who should get screened for cervical cancer?
Anyone with a cervix should be screened regularly for cervical cancer. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any questions about your risk and what screening schedule is recommended for you.
People ages 21 to 65 should get the Pap test every 3 years.
People who are ages 30 to 65 may choose to have the Pap test every 5 years if done with an HPV test. When performed together it is called “co-testing.”
If you have had the HPV vaccine, you should still continue to get screened. The vaccine does not prevent all types of cervical cancer.
Anyone with a previous history of cervical cancer, especially if you have had a hysterectomy due to cervical cancer.
How can I get screened?
Most insurance plans offer full coverage for preventive services, which includes cancer screening and getting vaccinated against HPV. If you don’t have insurance, you may qualify for free or low-cost health insurance. To get more information, go to Washington Healthplanfinder or call 1-855-923-4633.
If you do not have health insurance, or if you struggle with paying out-of-pocket costs for screening, you may be eligible to get free or low-cost cervical cancer screening through the WA Breast, Cervical, and Colon Health Program. Visit the Breast, Cervical, and Colon Health Program for information about free or low-cost cervical cancer screening. Women under 40 can also contact one of these family planning clinics to ask about free or low-cost screenings.
What is the HPV vaccine?
The HPV vaccine protects children against the types of HPV (Human Papillomavirus) that cause most cervical cancers. It protects against other cancers, including oral and anal cancers. Unlike cervical cancer, these cancers cannot be detected by a screening test before they become more serious. It also protects against genital warts. Learn more about HPV and get the answers to some questions about HPV and the HPV vaccine.
Who should get the HPV vaccine?
Children ages 11 – 12 should get two doses of the HPV vaccine, given 6 – 12 months apart.
Vaccination is sometimes recommended for children ages 9 – 10.
For anyone with a cervix who did not already get the vaccine, the recommendation goes up through age 26. People without a cervix who also need the vaccine and should check with their doctor for recommendations.
HPV vaccination is not always recommended for adults 27 and older. The vaccine may provide less benefit to older adults, due to the high likelihood of someone already having been exposed to HPV by this age. Talk to your healthcare provider about your risk for new HPV infections and if getting vaccinated is right for you.
- Learn more about cervical cancer screening at MyHealthfinder: Get Screened for Cervical Cancer - MyHealthfinder | health.gov
- Print and share this Cervical Cancer Fact Sheet
- Check out these CDC resources to learn more about HPV and the HPV vaccine.