January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Cervical cancer is highly preventable because screening tests for cervical cancer and vaccines to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the main cause of cervical cancer, are available. However, half of cervical cancers occur among women rarely or never screened for cancer, and another 10%–20% of cancers occur among women who were screened but did not receive adequate follow-up care. When cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable and associated with long survival and good quality of life.
For women aged 21–65 years, regular cervical cancer screening can help prevent cancer. The Papanicolaou (Pap) test detects precancers, which are cell changes on the cervix that might become cancerous if they are not treated appropriately. Women should start getting Pap tests at age 21 years and every 3 years thereafter. Women who are aged ≥30 years may choose to have an HPV test along with the Pap test. If both test results are normal, additional testing is not needed for 5 years. Specific recommendations from the three major organizations that issue guidelines on cervical cancer screening are available at http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/pdf/guidelines.pdf .
To help prevent cervical cancer, vaccines are available to prevent HPV infection. HPV vaccines offer the greatest health benefit to persons who receive all 3 doses before exposure to HPV through sexual activity. Routine HPV vaccination is recommended for girls and boys at age 11 or 12 years. Vaccination also is recommended for females through age 26 years and for males through age 21 years who have not been vaccinated previously. Any man who has sex with other men, and men with compromised immune systems (including human immunodeficiency virus infection), also may be vaccinated through age 26 years.
Information about HPV vaccines is available at http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/vaccine.html. Additional information about CDC programs that promote early detection and treatment of cervical cancer is available from the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program at http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp.